Reynolds closes bars in six counties, citing virus spread from college-age adults

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference Aug. 27, 2020, at Iowa PBS in Johnston. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered bars, taverns, wineries, breweries, distilleries and night clubs to close in six Iowa counties as of Thursday evening, citing “a notable increase in virus activity” linked to young adults who have been socializing without social distancing.

Bars in Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Story counties will have to close starting at 5 p.m. Thursday until Sept. 20. Restaurants in those counties may remain open but will have to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.

Reynolds’ emergency proclamation provides that businesses required to close can still sell carry-out food and alcoholic beverages and may still service food and alcohol at private gatherings such as wedding receptions.

“Really, the data is compelling,” Reynolds said. “When you look at the last two weeks, 23% of all new positive cases statewide were among young adults ages 19 through 24.”

In Johnson County, home of the University of Iowa, 58% of new cases were among that age group over the past two weeks. In Story County, where Iowa State University is located, college-age adults accounted for 67% of new cases. The percentage was even higher over the past seven days, she said.

“So while we still know this population is less likely to be severely impacted by COVID-19, it is increasing the virus activity in the community and it’s spilling over to other segments of the population,” she said. “So we are at a point where it is starting to become a workforce issue as well.”

Increases in community spread also raise the risk of exposure to vulnerable populations in nursing homes, she noted. There were 36 outbreaks in nursing homes as of Thursday, up from 20 on July 22. During that period, the number of people associated with those long-term-care facility outbreaks who have tested positive has more than doubled, from 502 to 1,118.

The governor said she was concerned the increased infection rate would also start to affect staffing in health-care centers and potentially schools.

Reynolds praised university presidents for their efforts in managing COVID-19 on campus, “especially those that have taken strong positions on holding students accountable for violating social distancing norms through large parties or gatherings.”

The state is “actively working” to bring Test Iowa resources to college campuses, she said.

She said she may take additional action if closing bars merely moves large gatherings to other locations. Her order did not ban or limit the size of public gatherings. Her order “strongly encouraged” the public to wear masks or face coverings when social distancing isn’t possible, but did not mandate it.

Reynolds first raised concerns about COVID-19 spread from young people about a month ago. On July 30, she said the state was stepping up enforcement of social distancing rules at bars and restaurants and said she was willing to “do more” if necessary.

Asked why she waited to act until after students had returned to campus, in some places holding large parties without social distancing or wearing masks, she said cases had subsided after the holidays but began to rise again as students returned to campus. The coming flu seasons and the potential for greater infections due to the derecho played a factor in her decision, she said, as well as the need to consider the harm to Iowans’ livelihoods.

“We can always question the timing, I’m just trying to balance a lot of different, just a lot of different things when we’re making these decisions,” she said.