Iowa governor: Bars must close in 6 counties as virus cases surge
JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday ordered that all bars be closed in six of the state’s largest counties in response to surging numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases blamed in part on young people ignoring mask and social distancing recommendations in such establishments.
Reynolds ordered the action in Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn, Johnson, Polk and Story counties effective at 5 p.m. Thursday, on a day when the state confirmed nearly 1,500 new cases, topping previous high records from the spring.
Restaurants in those counties may remain open but must stop serving alcohol after 10 p.m.
The new order is effective until Sept. 20.
Reynolds asked law enforcement officers to enforce the new requirements along with her current requirement that gatherings with more than 10 people must keep individuals at least six feet apart.
In the last 24 hours as of Thursday morning, Iowa recorded 1,475 confirmed cases, surpassing the April 25 total of 1,284. During that period, there were 18 more deaths for a total of 1,079.
Reynolds said the increased cases are largely due to young people gathering, especially those returning to state universities.
“The increase in the virus activity among young adults is the result of socializing in large groups, not social distancing, contracting the virus and spreading it to classmates coworkers or others,” she said.
In Story County, where Iowa State University is located, 74% of new cases in the past seven days were among young adults aged 19 to 24, she said. In the same time period, 69% of new positive cases in Johnson County, where the University of Iowa is located, were in that age group.
“It is increasing the virus activity in the community and it’s spilling over to other segments of the population,” Reynolds said. “So we are at a point where it is starting to become a workforce issue as well.”
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld thanked Reynolds and told students in a statement that her actions do not absolve them from personal responsibilities.
“For us to have any chance of a semester together we must and will do better,” he said.
Reynolds also said she continues to encourage Iowans to wear masks in public but again refused to issue a mask mandate. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has recommend a mask order, but Reynolds said a mandate couldn’t be enforced so wouldn’t be effective.
When asked about local officials who have sought to impose mask mandates, Reynolds said their actions couldn’t be enforced because they were more strict than her statewide orders.
On Wednesday, Des Moines became the latest city to begin its own local mask requirement for those in enclosed public places. Officers won’t cite those in violation but have been told to hand out masks to people without face coverings.
Many K-12 schools are returning to classes this week, and state data shows nine districts are in counties that have a positivity rate higher than 15%, which is the threshold Reynolds has established for schools to seek online learning instead of required classroom lessons.
The 15% level is three times higher than recommended by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Several schools have already experienced outbreaks and have quarantined staff and students.
Reynolds said the state will not report outbreaks in schools publicly as they do with nursing homes. She said schools with outbreaks report it to county health officials who then notify parents and others in the district who need to know the information.
Iowa teachers are considered critical infrastructure workers, Reynolds said, following a policy change by President Donald Trump, who has pushed states to get schools back in session. That means teachers could be asked to return to work even though they test positive for coronavirus but are not showing symptoms. Reynolds said the same standards should be applied to them as with health care workers who must work but are provided adequate protective gear like masks and face shields to guard against infection.
Reynolds also announced the state would begin to count antigen tests in the state’s data. The tests detect specific proteins on the surface of the coronavirus and are increasingly being used because results are returned faster than the more often used molecular test, which detects the virus’ genetic material. Antigen tests can have higher false negative results but Iowa Medical Director Caitlan Pedati said for people with symptoms or who appear likely to be infected, molecular tests are given to confirm.