Starting Friday, movie theaters, museums, zoos, aquariums, wedding reception venues and swimming pools can reopen statewide, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced at her press conference on Wednesday. Bars and “other establishments that serve alcohol and have been limited to carry-out and delivery” will be able to reopen next week.
It’s the latest in a series of moves by Reynolds to reopen the state since signing a proclamation on April 24 that permitted elective medical procedures to resume and farmers markets to open.
“Iowa’s recovery is underway, and our collective work as Iowans to mitigate, contain and manage virus activity in our communities is generating the type of results that enable us to ease restrictions, open businesses and get our state back to work safely and responsibly,” the governor said at her press conference.
According to the new proclamation Reynolds signed on Wednesday, movie theaters will only be able to operate at 50 percent of their normal seating capacity, and “must ensure at least six feet of physical distance between each group or individual attending alone when seated in the theater.” Self-serve refreshments are prohibited.
“All other theaters and performance venues at which live performances are held shall continue to be closed,” the proclamation states.
Museums, zoos and aquariums will have to take “reasonable measures under the circumstances of each establishment” to promote social distancing and other precautions recommended by the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Wedding reception venues will need to follow the public health guidelines already issued for restaurants, which, among other things, limit the crowd size to half the venue’s maximum capacity and restrict the number of patrons at a single table to six.
Swimming pools will be open, but only for lap swimming and swimming lessons.
Although the governor did not mention it at her press conference, auctions may resume on Friday. If there will be more than 25 people at the auction, it will have to held outside.
The governor did, however, discuss the proclamation’s section on high school sports at her press conference.
“Effective June 1, Iowa schools will be permitted to resume school-sponsored activities and learning,” Reynolds said, “According [sic] to the appropriate public health precautions, this will include high school baseball and softball activities.”
She promised more details about school activities would be provided at her Thursday press conference.
“High school athletics was the logical place to start the process of bringing athletics back in season,” Reynolds said, although she did not further explain that decision. She added that IDPH is working with youth sports associations to develop a plan “to bring other sports opportunities back for the summer.”
This coming weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, and Reynolds noted that many Iowans traditionally spend it camping. She then asked Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Kayla Lyon to explain what will be open at state parks.
“I’m very pleased to announce that we will be opening all modern restrooms, shower buildings and cabins at our Iowa state parks starting this Friday, May 22, in time for the Memorial weekend,” Lyons said via Zoom. “This means campgrounds will be open for all campers, including RVs, pop-ups and tent camping.”
There will be some restrictions.
“In campgrounds, only campers with overnight reservations will be allowed, no visitors,” Lyons said. “Only campers occupying the individual campsite will be allowed to gather around the campfire, no guest or large groups. Only six overnight occupants per campsite will be allowed, unless the immediate family contains more than six.”
Youth group and other group campsites will be closed. So will shelters, lodges, playgrounds, museums and visitor centers.
Beaches will be open and closely monitored, according to Lyons.
“Communal picnic tables and grills are open for use at your own risk,” she said.
The reopening of bars the governor announced was not part of the proclamation she signed on Wednesday.
“We’re working on what those details look like right now,” Reynolds explained in response to a question about how bars will reopen.
Asked how intoxicated people can be expected to responsibly practice social distancing, the governor said, “We’re going to work with our business owners. We’re going to work with law enforcement and they have said they’re going to educate Iowans.”
Reynolds said police officers would encourage people to adhere to “the guidelines that are put in place.” As “a last resort,” the police may issue citations.
“But I believe, you know, we’re all in this together, and I believe that Iowans can be responsible and we can do this,” the governor said.
Reynolds added that there will be some people who won’t behave responsibly, “but that applies to anything and everything.”
The governor was asked what it was in the data she is reviewing that made her feel confident that now was the right time to reopen movie theaters, when the state is still reporting hundreds of new cases of COVID-19 each day.
“Because we are seeing a stabilization,” Reynolds said. “We’re not overwhelming our health care systems. We’ve demonstrated that we have to manage any type of an uptick or a surge. And so, we’re seeing great trends.”
Since COVID-19 was first detected in Iowa on March 8, the focus of the governor and IDPH has been on ensuring the hospital system isn’t overwhelmed (even though IDPH wasn’t certain how many ICU beds were available in the state until three weeks after the virus began spreading in Iowa). Reynolds has repeatedly said she believes there is no way to prevent people from contracting the virus, but usually adds that experts believe there’s only a one-in-five chance an infected person will become severely ill. (The governor prefers to state those odds in a different way, saying 80 percent of infected people will have mild or moderate symptoms.)
Reynolds was asked about a report her office received on May 5 from a team of University of Iowa College of Public Health researchers warning that, although the restrictions in place in Iowa had slowed the spread the virus, it was still occurring, and reopening the state will cause the spread to increase.
“The full effects of reopening are not expected to be observed for several weeks,” the report said.
The governor said she appreciated the work done by the UI teams — which was commissioned by IDPH — but brushed aside its conclusions, saying the report’s models of COVID-19 spread in Iowa were based on “assumptions and projections” made at “a certain point in time.”
Reynolds said she preferred to rely on real-time data produced by Iowa’s testing programs, as well as the contract tracing and case investigation currently being done by members of the National Guard.
“If we feel that there is, that there potentially could be, a surge that would impact not only our communities and Iowans, but our hospital system and their ability to take care of COVID patients, as well as other Iowans who need to utilize the hospital, then we will make accommodations accordingly,” the governor said.
IDPH’s COVID-19 information site switched from once-a-day updates to what the department describes as real-time updates on Tuesday. At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, the site listed the total number of Iowans who have tested positive for the virus as 15,595, an increase of 258 cases from the total at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. But the state’s real-time case numbers do not match some of the real-time numbers reported by county health agencies.
At 2 p.m., a total of 902 residents of Linn County had tested positive, according to IDPH. But according to Linn County Public Health, the actual number was 922.
The discrepancy between IDPH’s case total for Black Hawk County and Black Hawk County Public Health’s total is even larger. According to IDPH, a total of 1,635 of the county’s residents had tested positive as of 2 p.m. According to the county, the correct number is 1,869.
Johnson County Public Health had not updated the county’s numbers on its COVID-19 information page since Monday. IDPH showed the county’s total on Wednesday at 2 p.m. as 578, an increase of four reported cases since Tuesday afternoon.
As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, IDPH was reporting a total of 385 Iowans have died from the virus, an increase of 13 from the same time on Tuesday. Again, IDPH’s real-time numbers don’t match the real-time numbers from county public health agencies.
To use the examples of Linn and Black Hawk again — IDPH lists the total number of deaths in those counties as 72 and 34, respectively. According to the two counties, the correct numbers as of 2 p.m. were 73 and 37.
There is one number that is still easy to track: the number of counties where no cases of the virus have been confirmed. When Gov. Reynolds signed her first proclamation relaxing COVID-19 restrictions in the state on April 24, there were 15 counties with no confirmed cases. As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, there was only one.