Reynolds extends COVID-19 social distancing rules; reopens youth sports

The Des Moines East High School Scarlets hosted Johnston to open the 2020 high school baseball season. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines Public Schools)

Iowans can return to youth sporting events but they won’t be able to return their bottles and cans to the grocery store to get their nickel deposits back for at least another month.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday she would extend for another 30 days her COVID-19 emergency proclamation. While she has already reopened businesses and other public venues that were closed during the height of the pandemic, the renewed order keeps social distancing rules in place for those venues.

However, Reynolds said her proclamation reopens all youth sporting events under guidelines from the Iowa Department of Education, Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.

She also said she’d support the Board of Regents in its decision to allow crowds at state university football games. The Story County Board of Health has recommended that Iowa State University bar spectators from its games this fall.

“We understand that virus activity may fluctuate based on the decisions that we make, whether gathering as large groups or exercising our individual freedoms,” Reynolds said. “But we’ve learned that taking simple steps helps reduce our risks and creates a strong line of defense.”

Reynolds pointed to downward trends in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Iowa as justification for continuing to reopen the state despite national spikes in virus activity.

Iowa has recorded 27,197 positive COVID-19 cases as of midday Thursday and 695 deaths.  No deaths were reported on June 21 or 22, the first days with no deaths reported since April 6.  Just over 17,000 Iowans are considered “recovered” from the virus.

Reynolds said Test Iowa, which was announced April 21, this week “shattered” its testing capacity of 3,000 tests a day. Test Iowa sites across the state conducted 3,790 tests on Monday; 3,597 on Tuesday and 3,586 on Wednesday. The state’s percentage of positive cases also dipped below 10% for the first time, she said.

Nationally, new coronavirus cases are rising in 29 states, according to the New York Times. Iowa’s level of new cases was characterized as “mostly the same.” Texas has paused its reopening process as hospitalizations have more than doubled since the beginning of June, the Times reported.

Reynolds’ proclamation extended her orders granting temporary relief of more than 150 regulations. Reynolds has said some of those rules may be waived for the rest of the year.  The proclamation frees health care facilities from some requirements for staffing levels, training and criminal background checks for new workers.

It allows bars and restaurants to keep selling “cocktails to go,” that are intended to be consumed off site.  The Legislature has voted to legalize carryout cocktails permanently; Reynolds has not yet acted on the legislation.

However, Iowans will not be allowed to return bottles and cans to grocery stores to redeem their deposits.  Reynolds has not said how long she will keep this waiver in place.  The state’s grocers have said they would like to be permanently relieved of having to accept bottle and can returns.