Reynolds issues mask mandate for some social gatherings

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference on Nov. 11, 2020, and Iowa PBS in Johnston. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds issued new health requirements on Tuesday requiring children and adults to wear masks at social or recreational gatherings with 25 people inside or 100 people outside.

The new measures, which go into effect at midnight Tuesday, require masks at any “social, community, recreation, leisure or sporting event.” The order expires Nov. 30, according to the proclamation.

Reynolds also limited the size of parties that can be together in public places such as bars, restaurants, bowling alleys, arcades, indoor playgrounds, children’s play centers and pool and bingo halls. Reynolds said groups in such places must be limited to eight people, unless everyone is from the same household

“Iowa is open for business and we intend to keep it that way. That’s why it’s time for these additional mitigation efforts,” Reynolds said during her press conference.

The new orders come as Iowa hospitals statewide report staffing and bed shortages as positive cases and hospitalizations spike in Iowa.

The Department of Public Health reported Tuesday morning that 196 patients with the virus were in intensive care. The department reported that about 33% of the state’s hospital beds were still available, but that was not the case in every hospital.

Polk County public health officials warned Nov. 6 that the local COVID-19 case count will triple the spring peak in the next two weeks if infections grow at the current rate.

UnityPoint hospitals in the Des Moines metro area were at capacity, the health care system reported Monday, leading to longer waits in emergency rooms and the delay of non-emergency surgeries and procedures.

The state has averaged 3,888 new cases per day over the past week, an increase of 200% from the average two weeks ago, the New York Times reported. Iowa is approaching 160,000 cases and has recorded 1,872 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, the Times reported.

Reynolds emphasized that Iowans should seriously consider rescheduling more “high risk” events, such as wedding showers, baby showers, birthday parties and even holiday gatherings.

“This is the time when personal responsibility also means personal sacrifice,” Reynolds said. “We can do this. It’s worth it.”

With Thanksgiving and Christmas quickly approaching, Jessica Dunker, president of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said downtrodden hospitality businesses will feel even more financial pain

“This, in and of itself, won’t hurt businesses,” Dunker said. “What hurts businesses is when you place more restrictions on industries, it creates fear and uncertainty in customers.”

The biggest change will be the seating limitations that restrict groups to eight or fewer people, Dunker said. Restaurants or bars hosting events like a bachelorette party will need to seat people in groups of eight, instead of allowing people to put tables together.

Reynolds said she prefers this measure over broad closures, however. “It’s an acceptable one because we’re trying to stay open,” Dunker said.

Families heading to the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls for the Iowa High School Football State Playoffs this week will also need to adhere to the new proclamations, except for the limit on two tickets per athlete.

Only two people per athlete may attend all other youth sporting events, according to the proclamation.

This is the first time Reynolds has required Iowans to wear masks. The White House Coronavirus Task Force has been requesting a statewide mandate for months, in light of the high community spread of the virus, especially in Iowa’s long-term care facilities.

Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen said Reynolds’ new proclamations do not go far enough.

“For eight months, Gov. Reynolds has unilaterally led a COVID strategy, damaging the Iowa economy and leaving business owners and workers at her mercy,” Petersen, of Des Moines, said in a news release. “If the governor had listened from day one to health care experts, including the White House Coronavirus Task Force, more Iowans would be alive today and the Iowa economy would be rebounding.”

Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek said Reynolds’ proclamation fails to acknowledge the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Reynolds said during her press conference Tuesday that her mandates don’t apply to school districts or religious institutions.

Beranek said that ISEA’s survey of school districts show 40% don’t require masks, according to a news release.

“Instead of continuing to make it difficult to keep our schools safe, the governor should mandate masks and lift the waiver requirement through the end of winter break,” Beranek said.

The Department of Education has approved 24 requests since Nov. 1 for school districts to move to primarily online instruction and the department “is in the processing of reviewing and approving three more,” Director Ann Lebo said Tuesday.

 

Linh Ta
Reporter Linh Ta comes to Iowa Capital Dispatch from the Des Moines Register, where she covered trending news, public safety and the suburbs. Most recently, she has covered retail business and followed both national and local trends to provide insight about the issues that matter the most to Iowans. Beyond traditional journalism, Ta has worked as a speech coach with the Des Moines Storytellers Project with the goal of sharing the diverse perspectives of Iowans from all walks of life. She is the 2019 winner of the Young Iowa Journalist Award and the winner of an Iowa Broadcast News Award. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @linhmaita.