Gov. Kim Reynolds announced on Wednesday she is eliminating more restrictions imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Effective Friday, June 12, at 8 a.m., the 50 percent capacity limit currently in place for businesses will be lifted,” the governor said.
Businesses currently must restrict the number of customers they serve at any one time to 50 percent of their maximum occupancy limit. Some businesses — restaurants, bars, movie theaters — will have to continue to maintain six feet of distance between seated groups after the occupancy limit is lifted. On Friday, live performance venues will also be able to reopen, providing they follow the same restrictions regarding group spacing that movie theaters and bars do.
All businesses will be expected to continue to follow general guidelines provided by the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“Establishments shall implement reasonable measures to ensure social distancing, increase hygiene practices and other public health measures to reduce the risk of the transmission of COVID-19, consistent with the guidance that’s been provided by the Department of Public Health,” Reynolds explained during her press conference.
“Swimming pools may open under the guidelines, and senior centers and adult daycare programs may also open if they comply with specific guidance being issued by the Department of Public Health.”
According to the proclamation signed by the governor on Wednesday, it will be up to state agencies, including IDPH and the Iowa Department of Public Safety, to determine whether or not a business is implementing “reasonable measures.” City and county officials will not have the authority to enforce safety measures related to COVID-19.
Reynolds called her decision-making process regarding pandemic precautions “a measured and responsible approach that’s driven by data.”
The governor said she made the decision to eliminate some of the few remaining COVID-19 restrictions because the statistics regarding virus activity in the state are all trending in a positive direction.
But as Iowa Capital Dispatch reported on Tuesday, positive trends are not uniform throughout the state.
COVID-19 infection rates are continuing to climb in 15 of Iowa’s 99 counties, but are falling in 15 others, according to the latest data from state and national health officials.
In the 69 remaining counties, there have been few infections reported over the past two weeks.
The Dispatch listed some of the counties experiencing the biggest spikes in cases.
• Dickinson County: The rate of cases per 100,000 people has risen from 1.7 two weeks ago to 31.8.
• Hardin County: The rate of cases per 100,000 people has risen from 16.5 two weeks ago to 44.5.
• Buena Vista County: The rate of cases per 100,000 people has risen from 267.2 two weeks ago to 287.
• O’Brien County: The rate of cases per 100,000 people has risen from 6.2 two weeks ago to 22.6.
• Emmet County: The rate of cases per 100,000 people has risen from 7.5 two weeks ago to 25.4.
• Webster County: The rate of cases per 100,000 people has risen from 5.8 two weeks ago to 16.7.
• Pottawattamie County: The rate of cases per 100,000 people has risen from 7 two weeks ago to 17.1.
Reynolds didn’t mention any of these spikes during her press conference on Wednesday.
At 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the Iowa Department of Public Health was reporting that 275 new cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of Iowans who have tested positive to 22,454.
IDPH also reported another seven people have died from the virus. The state’s death toll from COVID-19 stood at 629 as of 10 a.m.
During her press conference, Reynolds was asked about the bill passed by the Iowa House of Representatives that offers broad immunity to businesses from potential lawsuits from workers who were infected with COVID-19 on the job, or customers who are infected while at a business. The bill would offer the same protection to churches and other organizations.
House Republicans passed it late Friday night on a party-line vote. Republican leaders in the Senate have described providing businesses with protection from potential COVID-19 lawsuits as a top priority.
Reynolds was also asked about the bill last week, before it was passed by the House, but at the time she said it was too soon to comment on it. Asked again on Wednesday, she took the same position, although she did say she disagreed with the reporter’s characterization of the bill as favoring “business interests more than it does the interest of the individual who might get sick.”
“I think that’s an unfair statement,” Reynolds said. “I don’t think that that’s accurate. What I’ve experienced from businesses that I’ve worked with that they have gone above and beyond to do everything they can to not only protect their employees, but to make sure they’re protecting their clients that come in. So, it’s a balance.”
“I thinks it’s very hard, it would be very hard to identify where somebody was exposed to the COVID-19. I mean, look at the protests that have taken place over the last 10 days. So you go back to work, how can you determine when and where you came in contact with somebody that potentially had COVID-19?”
The governor said it is her policy not to comment on bills before they arrive on her desk. It has been Reynolds’ standard practice as governor not to publicly comment on potentially controversial bills before signing them into law, even when she is known to be in favor of them.
Approximately three hours after the governor finished her press conference, the Iowa State Fair Board met and voted 11-2 to cancel this summer’s fair. It is only the sixth time since the fair was first held in 1854 that it has been canceled.
Iowa State Fair General Manager Gary Slater said his staff had worked on plans for a state fair that would have featured fewer attractions and would have limited the number of people attending, but decided to recommend against a scaled-down fair.
“Let’s not damage our brand by offering something that’s less than our standards because we have to get people in the door,” Slater told reporters following the board’s vote.
As governor, Reynolds is a member of the Iowa State Fair Board, but she has delegated her responsibilities on the board to Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg.
At her press conference on Wednesday, Reynolds was asked what recommendations she had made to the board regarding this year’s fair.
“I’m not making a recommendation to them,” she said.