State orders bars and some restaurants to complete new COVID-19 checklist

Iowans spent significantly more money on liquor in 2020 than they did in 2019. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division is requiring licensees to complete a COVID-19 compliance checklist to assist in the implementation of virus-mitigation efforts.

The division says the purpose of the checklist is for licensees to certify they’ve read and understand the terms and conditions of the governor’s proclamations on steps that restaurants and bars must take to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing.

The answers to the questions will spell out the actions that licensees claim to have taken to comply with the requirements of the governor’s proclamations.

The checklist will also help state officials should ABD receive a complaint about an establishment, according to a department news release. Having information about a licensee’s claimed social-distancing measures should help expedite the investigative process and resolve complaints in a timely manner.

If licensees choose not to complete the checklist, an ABD investigator will visit the establishment to verify compliance with the proclamation and determine what other course of action should be taken as a result of not complying with the checklist requirement.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch recently reported that complaints from Iowans about bars and restaurants with liquor licenses failing to impose COVID-19 mitigation measures have increased five-fold in recent weeks.

Between March 17 and July 29, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division fielded 147 complaints — an average of just over one complaint per day — about Iowa bars and restaurants violating laws and orders related to COVID-19 mitigation. Between July 30 and September 8, the ABD fielded 229 such complaints, an average of 5.7 complaints per day.

Unlike the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which helps oversee restaurants that don’t have a liquor license, the Alcoholic Beverages Division can impose fines and it has warned businesses with a liquor license they could face a $1,000 fine for a first offense.

A second violation for establishments with and without a liquor license can lead to a seven-day suspension of the license by the ABD, as well as a seven-day suspension of the food license granted by the DIA. A third violation could trigger the revocation of all food and alcohol permits and licenses.

At this point, the division has a dozen open cases that could result in action against the license holders.

The Department of Inspections and Appeals says it has received a total of 962 complaints related to restaurants’ COVID-19 mitigation efforts. To date, the agency’s only enforcement action has been to issue one warning to a deli owner who told inspectors he wasn’t “going to play ball” with them or follow the governor’s orders on COVID-19 mitigation.