CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Reynolds issues indoor mask requirement as Iowa's COVID surge continues

Masks requirements for indoor public spaces, limits on sizes of gatherings, business hours start Tuesday

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gives a prime-time televised address announcing new efforts to combat COVID-19 in the state, on M
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gives a prime-time televised address announcing new efforts to combat COVID-19 in the state, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, at Iowa PBS, in Johnston, Iowa. (Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP)
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DES MOINES — Most Iowans must wear a mask or other face covering while they are indoors in public, and near other people for at least 15 minutes, under a more stringent public health order issued Monday by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The mask requirement is part of new orders issued as COVID-19 spreads rapidly through Iowa, now creating the state’s highest rates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Reynolds’ order, which goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, also places a limit of 15 people on all indoor gatherings, including wedding and funeral receptions, family gatherings, conventions and festivals. The order limits outdoor gatherings to 30 people. However, the restrictions do not apply to gatherings in the workplace as part of the normal daily business or government operations.

Restaurants and bars are allowed to remain open, but must keep their hours between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

In what is believed to be the first-ever address from an Iowa governor televised live during prime time, Reynolds on Monday night posited that Iowans may have become complacent, possibly leading to the latest spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

She warned those spikes threaten to overwhelm Iowa’s health care system, echoing warnings from hospital officials. Reynolds noted if COVID-19 patients overwhelm hospitals, all Iowans who need health care will be in danger.

“Right now, the pandemic in Iowa is worse than it has ever been,” Reynolds said. “That’s why I’m talking directly to you tonight, to ask for your help, not just as your governor, but as a daughter, as a mother, as a grandmother. It’s up to all of us so that the worst-case scenarios that I just described don’t become our reality.”

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Reynolds’ address to Iowans came on a day when Iowa posted 2,350 new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 187,035 since the virus was first detected in Iowa last March. Monday’s six confirmed deaths brings the total to 1,991.

Iowa has seen hospitalizations more than double since Nov. 1 with Monday’s number marking the largest single day net increase during the ongoing pandemic.

When The Gazette analyzed new totals at 11 a.m. Monday, as it does daily to measure changes over a 24-hour period, Iowans being treated in hospitals for COVID-19 had increased 113 to 1,392 — an 8.8 percent jump that was the largest in a single day.

But within hours, the patient tally jumped sharply again — to 1,510 by 4:30 p.m. Monday. That’s an 18 percent jump in hospitalizations in less than 29 hours.

While COVID-19 is spreading in many states across the country, it has been spreading faster in Iowa. The state has the fourth-highest rate of spread, according to the latest report from the White House COVID-19 task force.

The Republican governor for months has resisted issuing a mask requirement despite multiple calls from public health officials and infectious disease experts.

Legislative Democrats called Reynolds’ order only a “half-measured attempt at a mask mandate” that will not be enough to make Iowans safer heading into the holiday season.

“Her actions today are simply too little, too late. Half-measures will only prolong this pandemic and the suffering of Iowans,” Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls and House Democratic Leader Todd Prichard said in a joint statement.

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Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, expressed disappointment.

“Today, more than one-third of Iowa’s school districts still do not require students and school employees to wear masks even though almost every single county in Iowa has surpassed 15 percent positivity,” Beranek said in a statement. “We need a clear and simple mask mandate for our schools. We are in a crisis and we need a leader.”

Reynolds’ mask requirement includes some exceptions, including for people with a medical condition or disability that would be aggravated by a mask; the deaf or hard of hearing; people who work alone or more than 6 feet away from others; people while eating or drinking; and public safety workers whose duties would be hindered.

All organized youth and adult sports activities of any size are suspended under the governor’s order — including basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, dance and group fitness classes at gyms. However, high school, collegiate and professional sports are allowed to continue.

While high school sports and extracurricular activities are not prohibited, Reynolds said, spectators at games or events are limited to two per student and are required to wear a mask.

Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, bingo halls and indoor playgrounds are required to close at 10 p.m. and cannot host private gatherings of more than 15 people. Masks must be worn by staff who have direct contact with customers, and customers must wear masks when they are not seated at a table to eat or drink. The proclamation also requires masks inside casinos.

The proclamation requires hospitals to ensure that inpatient elective procedures are reduced by 50 percent.

The orders continue until 11:59 p.m. Dec. 10.

In the new orders, Reynolds did not require but “strongly” encouraged vulnerable Iowans to limit activities outside their homes, and encouraged Iowans to limit in-person interactions with vulnerable people.

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Studies have showed COVID-19 is more dangerous to older people and those with existing health issues.

“If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose,” Reynolds said. “Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online, and our health care will fail and the cost in human life will be high.

“So now is the time to come together for the greater good, to look out for each other — not because you’re told to, but because it’s the right thing to do. That’s who we are as Iowans, and I know without a doubt that we’ll get through this together.”

Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley joined the chorus Monday, taking to the Senate floor to urge Iowans to “step up their personal responsibility” in combating the COVID-19 community spread.

“Although promising vaccines for the coronavirus are on the horizon; it’s more important than ever to stop the surge,” Grassley said in prepared remarks.

Summary of Enhanced Public Health Measures

Effective Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 12:01 a.m. until Thursday, Dec. 10 at 11:59 p.m.

Mask Use: Indoor spaces open to the public and state executive branch buildings

Masks required when individuals are within 6 feet of one another for 15 minutes or longer with certain exceptions

Gathering Restrictions: Social, community, business, or leisure gatherings

No more than 15 people indoors and 30 people outdoors

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These restrictions apply to wedding receptions, family gatherings, conventions, and other non-essential gatherings but do not apply to gatherings that occur during the ordinary course of business or government

Sporting and Recreational Events: Youth and adult group sporting and recreational gathering are prohibited except for high school, college, and professional sports

High School Sports and Extracurriculars: Sporting, recreational, and extracurricular events

Only two spectators permitted for each high school athlete, performer or competitor, and must wear a mask and maintain 6 feet distance from other spectators

Students can be closer than six feet and are not required to wear masks

Restaurants and Bars: Restaurant or bar, including a wedding reception venue, winery, brewery, distillery, country club, or other social or fraternal club

Closed to in-person services at 10 p.m.

No bar seating

Masks required when not seated (while playing games, dancing, etc.)

Six feet distancing between groups

Groups limited to 8 people unless larger group is all same household

Seated when eating or drinking and limit congregating

Fitness Centers: Fitness centers, health clubs, health spas, gyms

Group fitness activities are prohibited

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Casinos and Gaming Facilities: Masks required except when seated to eat or drink

Closer/Prolonged Contact Establishments: Bowling alleys, pool halls, bingo halls, arcades, indoor playgrounds, children’s play centers

Closed to in-person services at 10 p.m.

Mask required when not seated to eat or drink

Ensure that groups and individuals are six feet apart at establishment

Groups limited to eight people unless larger group is all same household

Non-essential/elective surgeries: A hospital must reduce its inpatient, non-essential surgeries to a level that uses at least 50% fewer beds than it did on average during September 2020

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