Gov. Reynolds orders more business closures, says police departments will start to enforce her public health orders

Closed signs hang on the door at Scratch Cupcakery (927 E 2nd Ave, Coralville) during the COVID-19 crisis. March 27, 2020. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

On Monday, Gov. Reynolds signed a new public health emergency proclamation, which closes more retail businesses and public spaces where people gather, including malls and vape shops, as well as all door-to-door sales. Recreational sites like bowling alleys, bingo halls, playgrounds and camping sites will also be closed, but golf courses will remain open.

According to the governor’s proclamation, the following venues will be closed starting at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and remain closed through April 30.

A. Malls: All enclosed malls shall be closed, including interior common areas and any retail establishment that only accessible to the public from the interior common areas. A retail establishment that may be directly accessed from outside the mall is not required to close by this paragraph.

B. Tobacco or vaping stores: All tobacco, cigarette, cigar, or vaping stores shall be closed.

C. Toy, gaming, music, instrument, movie, or adult entertainment stores: All toy, gaming, music, instrument, movie, or adult entertainment stores shall be closed.

D. Social and fraternal clubs: All social and fraternal clubs, including but not limited to American Legion or VFW posts, Elks Clubs, country clubs, and golf course clubhouses shall be closed, except that food and beverages may be sold if such food or beverages are promptly taken from the premises and a golf course clubhouse may also be open to the minimal extent necessary to facilitate use of the golf course provided appropriate social distancing practices are implemented.

E. Amusements: All bingo halls, bowling alleys, pool halls, arcades, and amusement parks shall be closed.

F. Museums, libraries, aquariums, and zoos: All museums, libraries, aquariums, and zoos shall be closed.

G. Race tracks: All race tracks and speedways shall be closed and shall not host any races, events, or other gatherings.

H. Skating rinks and parks: All indoor or outdoor roller or ice skating rinks and skate parks shall be closed.

I. Playgrounds: All outdoor or indoor playgrounds or children’s play centers shall be closed. This order does not apply to playgrounds in private residences or childcare facilities.

J. Campgrounds: All public and private campgrounds shall be closed to temporary recreational use. This order shall not prohibit the use of a campground by a long-term or permanent tenant who resides at the campground. All cabins and yurts in state parks shall also be closed to temporary residents.

K. Door-to-door sales: All unsolicited door-to-door sales and solicitations at all homes and residences is hereby prohibited.

Since Reynolds issued her first proclamation closing selected retail businesses on March 17, the governor has repeatedly said she is relying on the common sense and community-mindedness of Iowans to get them comply with her proclamation regarding restrictions on public activity. She repeated declined to say how her orders will be enforced.

That changed on Monday.

“All of the closures and restrictions outlined in the disaster emergency proclamations will be enforced,” Reynolds said at her Monday morning press conference on the state’s response to COVID-19. “Specifically, the limitation on social gatherings.”

Rather than explain what she will do next to enforce her emergency proclamation closing businesses and restricting public gatherings to 10 people or less, Reynolds had Commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety Stephan Bayens explain what she will do next.

“This week the governor will be issuing guidance to local law enforcement officials and police departments throughout the state on their role in enforcing orders outlined in the various declarations of disaster emergency,” Bayens said. Violating the orders contained in the governor’s proclamations could result in a person being charged with a simple misdemeanor.

Bayens stressed, however, that issuing a citation would be a last resort.

“Law enforcement has no desire to cite or arrest anyone,” he said.

According to Bayens, “law enforcement will always seek first to educate the public on the law” and encourage people to comply.

“Finally, should all other reasonable measures fail, then, and only then, will we do what the law requires and enforce the governor’s orders,” he said.

Reynolds was asked at the press conference what the specific information that convinced her to order the new closures was.

“As always, we take a look at the data and we take a look at what are some of the additional places that people are gathering that we don’t feel are essential businesses or essential services,” the governor replied. “And as we continue to look through the list, I’ve said all along, I’m not hesitant to add as we feel necessary.”

Reynolds did not get any more specific than that.

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The Iowa Department of Public Health is making recommendations to the governor on what actions to take using a map which divides the state into six regions, based on “patterns of health care utilization,” as IDPH Medical Director Dr. Caitlan Pedati explained on Thursday.

Iowa Department of Public Health’s planning map for COVID-19, April 6, 2020.

Each region is scored on four metrics — the percentage of the population over 65, the percentage of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization, the rate of infection per 100,000 residents during the past 14 days and the number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities — and if a region scores 10 or higher out of possible 12 points, IDPH says it will recommend the governor issue a shelter-in-place order for that region.

As of Monday, the IDPH map shows that the region covering northeastern Iowa (which includes Linn County) and the region that covers southeastern Iowa (which includes Johnson County) are both rated a nine, one point below the threshold.

IDPH’s decision-making approach has been criticized as only responding to crises once they are occurring, rather than looking at information to prevent them, and unrealistic, since it separates such closely linking communities as Linn and Johnson into different regions.

Reynolds was asked during the press conference if she would release the scientific studies IDPH relied on in establishing its 12-point regional system.

The governor’s reply did not address the question. Instead, she said, “I’m proud of the experts we have working on this, the Iowa Department of Public Health, the epidemiologist team,” and assured everyone that “there is a lot of consultation and coordination” going on.

Approximately three hours after the governor’s Monday morning press conference concluded, KWQC reported, “The Tyson pork plant in Columbus Junction is suspending operations after more than two dozen employees tested positive for COVID-19.”

In a written statement, the company said it has “stepped up deep cleaning and sanitizing of our facilities, especially in employee breakrooms, locker rooms and other areas, to protect our team members. This additional cleaning sometimes requires suspending at least one day of production.”

The statement did not say when the plant will resume operations.

The pork plant, of course, is not affected by any of the governor’s public health emergency proclamations. Only so-called “consumer-facing” businesses have been ordered closed. No restrictions have been placed on manufacturers or agricultural facilities.

According to IDPH, as of Monday morning there were 78 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the state’s total to 946. The new cases include 12 residents of Johnson County and 14 residents of Linn County. That makes those counties’ totals 118 and 176, respectively.

IDPH also reported three more COVID-19 deaths on Monday. One of the deceased was a resident of Linn County, between the ages of 61 and 80. The other two were residents of Tama County, and both were 81 or older. The newly reported deaths bring the state’s total of COVID-19 fatalities to 25.