Reynolds reopens bars in four counties, but not Story and Johnson

Complaints about violations of COVID-19 mitigation orders in Iowa bars have soared. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

Gov. Kim Reynolds will allow bars in four Iowa counties to reopen at 5 p.m. Wednesday when she lifts an order related to earlier spikes in the coronavirus. 

The new proclamation applies to bars, taverns, wineries, breweries, distilleries and night clubs in Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn and Polk counties. Reynolds also will lift restrictions on hours that alcohol can be sold in restaurants in those counties. 

The new proclamation emphasizes that the state’s social-distancing requirements apply to all bars and restaurants in Iowa. 

The bars, taverns and other businesses listed will remain closed in Johnson County, home to the University of Iowa, and Story County, where Iowa State University is located. Bars and similar businesses in those two counties can still sell to-go drinks, but restaurants there must stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m.

Reynolds’ latest proclamation continues to omit a statewide mask mandate. The governor strongly encouraged Iowans over the age of 2 to wear a mask or other face covering when in public, unless they have a medical reason not to.

The new proclamation will be in effect until Sept. 20. 

Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said her organization of 6,200 bars and restaurants welcomes Reynolds’ latest move. However, Dunker said unless the state allows bars to reopen statewide beginning Sept. 20, perhaps keeping rules on sanitation and social distancing, 1,000 of those businesses are likely to close by March. 

“We are very pleased that the four counties will be able to take advantage of one more good patio weekend,” Dunker said. 

Dunker added that the COVID spikes in the college towns had little to do with bars, in her opinion. “(Students) are living on top of each other in dorms and in Greek houses,” she said.

Reynolds had closed bars in six counties with high COVID-19 infection rates beginning Aug. 27. Most were college towns that had seen sharp increases in coronavirus cases since students returned to campus. 

Ames and Iowa city ranked at the top of the nation’s per capita rate among metro areas, and Iowa also rose to the top of the national rankings for a time. 

The closures brought quick protests from bar owners and their association

Bar openings have been controversial during the pandemic. 

The Washington Post reported that an analysis of cell phone data showed COVID-19 cases tend to spike three weeks after bars are reopened in an area. States that have reopened bars saw a doubling of cases in three weeks, the Post reported.

The newspaper also reported that a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of nearly 300 adults who tested positive for the coronavirus found those who tested positive were more than twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant within two weeks of finding out they were infected, compared to those who had negative tests.

Dunker said her association will continue to press for added aid from the federal government and tax breaks from the state Legislature.