Reynolds eases regulations on bars, restaurants and gatherings before holidays

By: - December 16, 2020 2:51 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference Dec. 16, 2020, at Iowa PBS in Johnson. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday she is easing coronavirus mitigation restrictions on restaurants, bars and gatherings as Iowa’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and positive cases drop. 

Bars and restaurants will no longer have to close at 10 p.m. and can resume their normal hours of operation, Reynolds said. Customers will still need to stay seated, limit groups to eight people, stay 6 feet apart and wear masks when they’re not eating or drinking.

Reynolds also lifted restrictions on the number of people who can attend social gatherings, but people must remain 6 feet apart. Since November, events like weddings, baby showers or funerals were limited to 15 people indoors and 30 people outdoors.

Attendance at school sporting events and other performances is now open to anyone in the household of the student athletes or performers. Previously, only two people could attend per student participant.

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference Dec. 16, 2020, at Iowa PBS in Johnson. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Reynolds said COVID-19 hospitalizations have reduced 50% from when they spiked at 1,500 patients mid-November and threatened to overwhelm the state’s health care workers.

But she urged Iowans to continue limiting their holiday gatherings, wear a mask and practice social distancing to prevent another surge.

Polk County health officials warned Tuesday that central Iowa is still at risk for a potential surge in Januay after the holidays.

“We want our lives to go back to normal. We want to keep our businesses open. And we want our children back in the classroom,” Reynolds said.

U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said easing restrictions prior to the holidays “sends the wrong message.”

“While a decline in record infection rates is certainly a positive sign, we all must recognize that our shared sacrifice of large in-person gatherings this holiday will slow the spread of this disease and give Iowans the chance to enjoy holidays together in the future,” Axne said in a news release.

Immunizations underway in Iowa

Kelly Garcia, interim director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, also announced during the press conference that the Moderna vaccine could arrive as early as Monday, pending emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The vaccine, which has a 30-day refrigeration shelf life, is easier for medical facilities to handle because it does not have the same ultra-cold storage requirements like Pfizer’s drug.

“That really will benefit some of our rural areas and our ability to disseminate to some of our long-term care facilities,” Reynolds said.

While health care workers and long-term care residents and staff have been the first to receive the vaccine, an ethics advisory council will make recommendations to Garcia next week on who should be prioritized within that group. 

The council will also meet to discuss the next group of people who should be immunized, with a focus on essential workers such as school staff and meatpacking plant employees.

The Infectious Disease Advisory Council, which is made up primarily of medical professionals, posts its minutes and recommendations, but the meetings are not open to the public.

Garcia said the meetings are closed because members are having “difficult discussions” and she wants open conversations. She will ultimately take the council’s recommendations to the governor.

“I really do need there to be a free-flowing dialog,” Garcia said. “It will provide the healthiest of recommendations.”

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