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Iowa governor allows college bars to reopen with distancing

Associated Press

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FILE - Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Johnston, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, pool)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Bars in Iowa’s two largest college towns can reopen next week after a five-week closure helped stop coronavirus outbreaks among young adults, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday.

Reynolds signed an order allowing bars to reopen Monday in Johnson and Story counties as long as they follow social-distancing rules. Breweries, wineries and distilleries were allowed to reopen almost immediately, on Friday at 5 p.m.

The order said the drinking establishments, which are often packed with University of Iowa and Iowa State University students, “must limit patrons from congregating together closer than 6 feet.”

All customers must consume their food and drinks while seated at a bar, booth or table, and groups must stay at least 6 feet apart. The order extends through Oct. 18, which suggests the governor could close the bars again if the virus starts to spread.

Reynolds had closed bars in six counties in late August, but allowed them to reopen in all but Johnson and Story on Sept. 16.

Both universities had outbreaks after students returned in August and packed into bars and off-campus parties. Thousands of them have reported infections.

The order reopening bars came as Iowa posted more than 1,000 new confirmed coronavirus cases for the third consecutive day, and nine new deaths.

The number of newly hospitalized coronavirus patients has continued to increase, with 66 reported in the last 24 hours. That was the second highest reported in one day since the beginning of the pandemic, surpassed only by one day last week.

For weeks, Iowa has been among the nation’s coronavirus hot spots with sustained high levels of new infections. The White House Coronavirus Task Force warned in a report Sunday that the state was in a “vulnerable position” heading into the fall and winter months, and recommended a statewide mask mandate and limits on bars and restaurant capacity.

Reynolds has ruled out a mask mandate and ordered public schools to reopen their classrooms.

Earlier this week, she loosened quarantine rules for students, educators and workers. Under the change, they do not need to spend 14 days at home if they have been exposed to an infected person as long as both parties were wearing masks consistently and correctly during their contact.

As of Friday, 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties have a positivity rate exceeding 5%, the rate at which many public health experts recommend measures to slow the spread, including mask wearing and limits on crowd numbers.

The most aggressive spread in recent weeks has been in northwest Iowa, where Sioux County has a state-high positivity rate of nearly 31%.

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