CORONAVIRUS

People at large gatherings must wear masks, Gov. Kim Reynolds orders

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, Sept.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

JOHNSTON — Gov. Kim Reynolds implemented new emergency restrictions Tuesday — including a mandate to wear masks at large public gatherings — designed to slow a surge in COVID-19 cases that threatens to overwhelm Iowa’s health care system and force more schools to switch temporarily to online learning.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic I have said that I’d dial mitigation measures back up when conditions warrant and that time is now,” the governor told a news conference.

The public health disaster emergency proclamation, which will be in effect for 30 days starting first thing Wednesday, places additional “targeted” restrictions on social, community, leisure and recreational events.

For any such gathering of 10 people or more, there must be 6 feet of social distancing between groups. The groups are limited to eight people, unless members are from the same family.

If an indoor event exceeds 25 people — or an outdoor event exceeds 100 people — all over age 2 must wear a mask except when eating and drinking, or the gatherings are prohibited.

However, Reynolds did not impose any broader statewide mask mandate. Law officers are to “educate and inform” violators of the mask requirement before issuing simple misdemeanor citations as “a last resort,” she said.

» MASK MANDATE: Read the new public health measures Reynolds enacted Tuesday

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“We believe that’s the right action to take at this time,” said Reynolds, on a day Iowa saw its second-highest number of new positive COVID-19 cases with 4,425 and daily deaths with 27, as well as a record high seven-day average. Overall, 161,267 Iowans have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic hit Iowa in March and 1,873 Iowans have died because of it.

Under the governor’s new order, groups going to bars or restaurants are similarly limited to eight people (except for family members, which can be more) and all patrons at bars and restaurants have to be seated at tables at all times except for restroom use or other limited reasons.

Reynolds recommended Iowans postpone family gatherings and vacations as the state heads into the Thanksgiving holiday season.

“I’m here to tell Iowans I need your help,” Reynolds said. “We all have to buckle down and take this seriously.”

The governor said she is trying to balance the health and safety of residents with the livelihood of businesses and individuals by implementing the latest round of restrictions.

She said she and her COVID-19 team will monitor the effectiveness of the measures and could implement more if they do not produce the desired outcomes.

“It’s a good place to start,” Reynolds told reporters. “If we have to do more, we will.”

In addition to the distancing and masking requirements, the proclamation states that only two spectators are permitted for each youth athlete at an indoor youth or high-school sporting or recreational gathering.

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Also, customers and employees are now required to wear masks at salons, barbershops, massage therapy establishments, tattoo establishments, tanning facilities and other establishments providing personal services. The governor urged Iowa employers to evaluate if more individuals could work remotely and to enable them to do so to the extent possible.

“Iowa is open for business and we intend to keep it that way. That’s why it is time for these additional mitigation measures,” said Reynolds. “But it will take all of us doing everything we can to stop the spread of the virus and keep it at a manageable level that we can live with.”

Legislative Democrats called the governor’s action “too little, too late” with Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, likening the proclamation’s provision to “buying a smoke detector after your house is blazing out of control.”

Petersen and House Democratic Leader Todd Prichard of Charles City called upon the governor to implement White House Coronavirus Task Force recommendations that include enacting a statewide mask mandate, while also worrying Reynolds’ COVID-19 strategy was endangering Iowans and damaging Iowa’s economy.

“After ignoring the pandemic and public health guidelines for a month while campaigning, Gov. Reynolds has put the state of Iowa in a crisis today,” Prichard said in a statement.

Reynolds, who last week said the Nov. 3 election results represented a “vote of confidence” in Iowa’s COVID-19 response, lamented that the state is facing pandemic “fatigue” causing Iowans to let their guard down. She urged Iowans to carefully consider what each can do to stop the COVID-19 spread and to “minimize time away from home” as much as possible.

“These trends cannot continue and it’s critical that all Iowans do everything within their power to stop the spread of the virus now. Like so many states, we’ve reached a point of serious community spread and we can no longer pinpoint any one age group or type of activity that’s driving it,” she noted.

“The things that seem the least threatening are some of the highest-risk activities right now like wedding receptions, youth sports, even having some neighbors over to watch a football game,” Reynolds told reporters. “The virus is spreading easily between people as they gather together as groups or go about their normal activities, especially when preventive health measures like masking and social distancing aren’t being followed.”

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Reynolds’ new mask requirements do not extend to churches or to schools, although the governor told reporters many school districts already are requiring mask-wearing inside buildings and on buses.

Also, the limitation of two spectators per athlete at youth sporting events does not apply to this weekend’s high school football championships in Cedar Falls, but masks are required for the crowd in the UNI-Dome.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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