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Reynolds: Bars in Johnson and Linn County must shut down due to COVID-19 spike

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An employee at the Sports Column in downtown Iowa City arranges patio furniture on July 14, 2020. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Downtown Iowa City bars that saw dozens of college-age patrons line up outside their doors just days ago must close up by 5 p.m. this Thursday, by order of the governor.

In a new proclamation of disaster emergency Gov. Kim Reynolds signed on Thursday morning, the state is requiring “bars, taverns, wineries, breweries, distilleries, night clubs, and other establishments that sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on their premises” in six Iowa counties — Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Story — to close to the general public from Thursday, Aug. 27 through Sunday, Sept. 20.

“Much of the spread [of COVID-19] we’re seeing in Iowa continues to be tied back to young adults, even a smaller subset of age 19 to 24,” Reynolds said during her a news conference conference on Thursday when she announced her new orders. According to the governor, 23 percent of the new cases statewide in the last two weeks were in that age group.

In Johnson County, that percentage was even higher.

The governor said “over the last 14 days in 19 to 24-year-olds [were] 58 percent of the new cases … When we take a look at the last seven days, 69 percent of new cases in Johnson County are attributed to that age group.”

“The increase of virus activity in young adults,” she continued, “is the result of socializing in large groups, not social distancing, getting virus and spreading it to classmates, coworkers or others.” She said her order closing bars was necessary because the increase in virus spread was “staring to become a workforce issue as well,” and could possibly affect “staffing in our healthcare system and potentially our schools.”

While the proclamation the governor signed on Thursday applies to all businesses that sell alcoholic beverages in those six counties, it includes some major exceptions. Carry-out, take-out and delivery options are still available, as are rentals of the establishments to private parties. Restaurants that serve alcohol may remain open as long as food sales make up the majority of their monthly revenue, and social distancing and proper hygiene are enforced. But those restaurants may only sell alcoholic beverages between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.

“I don’t make these decisions lightly, and its not lost on me that every business forced to close, alter their hours and sales — even temporarily — plays a role in the life of Iowa workers and our small businesses,” Reynolds said. “But these actions are absolutely necessary.”

At 10 a.m. on Thursday, the Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting another 1,475 Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19 during the previous 24 hours. That number — the highest one-day total ever reported by IDPH — includes 334 residents of Johnson County and 49 residents of Linn County. The new cases increase the total number of Iowans who have tested positive for the virus to 59,368.

The department also reported another 18 Iowans had died from COVID-19, including two residents of Johnson County and one resident of Linn. The state’s death toll from the virus stood at 1,079 at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

In addition to closures and reduction of serving hours in the new order, Reynolds pointed to a provision in the last proclamation she signed that requires anyone “hosting gatherings of more than 10 people must ensure that those attending maintain 6 feet of social distancing.”

The governor said, as she always does, that she believes Iowans will voluntarily comply with her orders.

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“It is my hope that we’ll be able to dial back these restrictions in the near future, but if they simply move large-scale parties and other high-risk activity elsewhere, then we’re going to be prepared to do more,” Reynolds said.

There is, however, one thing the governor still won’t do: require face coverings in public, or give local governments the authority to do so. Instead, her new proclamation states that she “strongly encourage[s] all Iowans two or older to wear a mask or other face covering when in public settings.”

Asked by a reporter why she won’t either mandate face coverings or endorse locally issued mandates as almost every other U.S. governor has done, Reynolds repeated her standard objections that such a mandate is impracticable and not easily enforceable.

Gov. Kim Reynolds packs up quickly and departs the podium Thursday, Aug. 27, as reporters continue to ask questions about her new orders for schools and bars.

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