JOHNSTON — Declaring that new coronavirus cases are declining in most counties and hospitals are well equipped, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday that hair salons and gyms across the state — and restaurants in the hardest-hit counties — can reopen starting Friday but still must adhere to restrictions meant to keep COVID-19 in check.
The latest order in Reynolds’ phased-in approach of reopening Iowa businesses now matches restrictions in 22 counties that include Cedar Rapids and Iowa City with previously relaxed restrictions in the state’s other 77 counties.
She also ordered that fitness centers, libraries, salons and barbershops, tanning facilities and tattoo parlors, among others, may open statewide.
Those businesses, however, must operate at half their capacity and incorporate social distancing measures to ensure the safety of workers and customers.
Bars, casinos, movie theaters, amusement parks, swimming pools, and playgrounds, among others, must remain closed at least through May 27, according to the governor’s order.
Reynolds said she made the decision to reopen more businesses because Iowa’s health care system is equipped to handle the spread of COVID-19 at its current rate, state public health officials see a downward trend in new cases in most counties and expanded and targeted testing enables her administration to monitor and address virus activity.
“These positive signs give me confidence that we’re on the right path and we’re ready to take additional steps forward,” Reynolds said Wednesday during her daily briefing on the state’s response to the pandemic. “We can and must reopen our economy. We can restart in a stable safe and responsible way. And we can slow the spread protect the health of Iowans and their livelihood and protect the health care system in the long run.”
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Reynolds made the announcement on a day when the number of deaths in Iowa related to COVID-19 continued to climb. The state Public Health Department Wednesday confirmed 17 new virus-related deaths, making this the deadliest seven-day stretch since the virus first was confirmed March 8 in Iowa.
The state has averaged 12.4 deaths over the past seven days. That average does not include the record daily tally of 19 deaths reported May 5.
Reynolds and a state public health spokeswoman said the deaths are a “lagging indicator,” meaning typically the most severe effects of the virus do not display until seven to eight days after a diagnosis.
The state Wednesday also reported 388 Iowans are hospitalized due to the virus, 36 of whom were admitted in the past 24 hours. Those numbers have been plateauing, if not falling slightly, over the past week.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned this week in his testimony to the U.S. Senate that states and cities that reopen businesses too soon face the potential for serious public health consequences.
“My concern that if some areas — cities, states or what have you — jump over those various checkpoints and prematurely open up, without having the capability of being able to respond effectively and efficiently, my concern is we will start to see little spikes that might turn into outbreaks,” he said.
Reynolds said one of the reasons she felt confident moving ahead with her plan is because she said Iowa’s health care system is able to deal with any sudden surge.
“That’s why we’ve done it in a very responsible, safe and stable manner,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing it in a phased approach. That’s why we didn’t just rip the Band-Aid off or flip a light switch. We’re being very methodical in the way that we move forward.”
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Her announcement of more relaxed mitigation requirements was met with criticism from the Iowa Democratic Party and the liberal issue advocacy organization Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.
“We urge the governor to start putting human life before corporate greed and reverse course now before more people get sick and die,” said Tom Mohan, Iowa CCI’s board president, in a statement.
The group said testing and contact tracing are woefully inadequate, and asserted Reynolds “isn’t telling us the truth about the exponential spread of COVID-19 in Iowa.”
Reynolds defended her order, saying it was based on what she called encouraging data trends.
“We’re going to continue do what we’ve been doing: we’re going to base it on Iowa data, we’re going to monitor on a daily basis, and we’re going to be responsible in the way that we move forward. I have full confidence in Iowans and I have full confidence in our businesses to do the right thing,” she said.
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