CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Kim Reynolds lifting Iowa mask rules, limits on businesses and gatherings starting Sunday

Democrats call it reckless, shortsighted, dangerous

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday afternoon updated her COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. The update, effecti
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday afternoon updated her COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. The update, effective Sunday, eliminates most restrictions that had been in place to combat COVID-19's spread. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday lifted Iowa’s partial face mask mandate, public health restrictions on businesses and limits on public gatherings.

The update to Reynolds’ COVID-19 public health emergency declaration drew immediate fire from Democrats, with one saying the move was “both reckless and tragic.”

Starting Sunday, the day of the Super Bowl:

Iowans will no longer be required to wear face coverings in public when around other people for at least 15 minutes.

Businesses will not be required to limit the number of customers or keep them socially distanced.

No limits will be placed on the number of people who can gather in public.

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In the updated proclamation, Reynolds encourages vulnerable Iowans — those 65 years or older, or with serious health conditions — to “limit their activities outside of their home,” including trips to businesses and other establishments where other people gather.

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Reynolds also encouraged Iowans to continue limiting their in-person interactions with vulnerable people and to “exercise particular care and caution” when in public.

State Rep. Todd Prichard of Charles City, leader of the Iowa House Democrats, said Reynolds’ announcement comes “just as Iowa hit the grim milestone of 5,000 COVID deaths this week.”

“Gov. Reynolds is doubling down on her failed COVID response,” he said in a statement. “It’s both reckless and tragic. This is failed leadership.”

“We all want to get life back to normal and the fastest way to do that is to follow the guidelines from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) until more Iowans can get vaccinated. “Ending the public health measures designed to keep Iowa safe and healthy will only prolong the COVID crisis’s effect on our economy and put more lives at risk.”

Reynolds’ actions to lift mitigation strategies comes at a time when the numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been steadily decreasing in Iowa. However, the averages remain higher than they were in the previous yearlong pandemic before the early winter surge.

It also comes at a time when the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution has been among the slowest in the country; a new, more contagious strain of the virus has been detected in the state; and the state has ordered K-12 schools to offer in-person instruction to all students.

Roughly 7 percent of Iowans have received the first of two shots required for the COVID-19 vaccine, which is among the three lowest rates in the country, according to federal data tracked by the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Earlier this week, the state public health department confirmed three cases of a new COVID-19 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, that medical experts believe spreads more easily than the original strain of the virus. Experts also believe, however, that current vaccines are also effective against the new strain.

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U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said Reynolds rolling back public health guidelines sends a message “that masks and safe social interactions are no longer important to slowing the spread of COVID-19. ... (The proclamation) is shortsighted, ill-conceived, and dangerous as it puts our community and most vulnerable at risk.”

Axne said she’s spoken to the governor and federal health officials about increasing Iowa’s vaccine allocations.

“But this new proclamation undermines all of those efforts — disregarding the lagging vaccinations of our seniors and other vulnerable populations and skipping ahead to a return to normalcy that is unwarranted,” she said.

On Feb. 15, all K-12 schools in Iowa will be required to offer 100 percent in-person instruction to all students choosing that option. Some districts had not offered the option while conducting classes entirely online or through an alternating schedule of in-person days and remote learning days.

The CDC said Friday it is safe to have students on-site, even if teachers and staff have not yet been vaccinated.

More than 5,000 Iowans have died from COVID-related causes over the course of the pandemic.

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