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Iowa enacts health emergency plan closing bars, restaurants



DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday ordered restaurants, bars, fitness centers, theaters and casinos to close for two weeks as part of a public health emergency plan designed to reduce the community spread of the coronavirus.

Reynolds’ proclamation prohibits social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure and sporting gatherings. It also bans events of more than 10 people including parades, festivals, conventions and fundraisers, in line with federal recommendations.

Senior citizen centers and adult day care facilities were closed.

“These are unprecedented times and the state of Iowa will do whatever is necessary to address this public health disaster,” Reynolds said in a statement. “The actions taken today are necessary to protect the health and safety of all Iowans and are critical to mitigating the spread of the virus.”

For most people, the COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness. Most people recover from the virus.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said Tuesday night that six more residents had tested positive for the virus, bringing the statewide total to 29.

Johnson County Public Health director Dave Koch confirmed Tuesday that an Iowa City man who works as a DJ and karaoke operator at bars and events in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area is among those who have tested positive.

Koch said officials have contacted venues where he performed in recent weeks. Customers who came in contact with the man should monitor their symptoms and seek treatment if necessary.

“This is just unique, that the individual visited so many locations with so many people involved,” Koch said.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart praised bar owners who voluntarily followed his request to close their establishments for St. Patrick’s Day on Tuesday.

“They chose to serve the public by not putting people and their own employees at further risk of contracting the virus,” Hart said.

Reynolds indicated Monday that she would not order bars to close, before reversing course abruptly Tuesday morning with her sweeping executive order.

Although the closures are intended to last through March 31, the emergency declaration will last for 30 days, allowing Reynolds to mobilize public health response teams to help overburdened local medical and public health personnel, hospitals and resources.

She ordered state agencies to coordinate in developing plans to mitigate the economic impact of the closings, including potential financial support, regulatory relief, and other executive actions.

Several local government agencies announced that they were closing their buildings to the public.

Earlier Tuesday, Iowa legislators suspended the legislative session for 30 days, passing a resolution that halts meeting until April 15.

Among hastily passed measures during the session, one waived the requirement for Iowa schools to reschedule days canceled following Reynolds’ recommendation to recess for four weeks.

Lawmakers also approved spending measures to continue the current budget year past the July 1 beginning of the next fiscal year if needed, since the Legislature had not yet approved next year’s budget.

The measure includes an additional $99 million to school districts, $525,000 for additional COVID-19 testing at a state laboratory and $91.8 million for Medicaid and related programs.

Lawmakers gave the governor increased authority to transfer money between budget line items and tap emergency funds if needed. A small group of legislative leaders may authorize an additional $196 million to fight the virus without full legislative approval.

House Speaker Pat Grassley said the legislation ensures that Reynolds “can effectively manage a rapidly changing situation.”

“The last thing we want to do is put the public, press, staff or legislators at risk,” Grassley said.

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