At her news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds highlighted how much virus activity in Iowa has declined since she imposed some new COVID-19 restrictions on Nov. 16, before announcing she was relaxing some of those restrictions.
“Bars and restaurants can resume their normal hours of operation,” the governor said.
In her Nov. 16 emergency health proclamation, Reynolds ordered bars and restaurants not to provide onsite service between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. (although takeout orders, drive-through service and deliveries were permitted). On Dec. 9, the governor relaxed that restriction so that establishments could remain open, but the last call for alcohol would have be at 10 p.m.
That restriction will be completely gone at one minute after midnight on Thursday morning.
Reynolds is also relaxing the restriction on spectators at youth sporting, recreational and other extracurricular events. Under the Nov. 16 proclamation, there was a limit of two spectators per participant at an event. Starting Thursday, that will be expanded to allow any member of a participant’s household to attend.
But the biggest change the governor announced was the elimination of the cap of 15 people at indoor gatherings and 30 people at outdoor gatherings. There will no longer be any limit imposed on the size of gatherings, “but six feet of distance between groups or individuals in attendance is required,” Reynolds said.
After announcing the size of gatherings will no longer be limited, the governor said, “This holiday season I encourage you to celebrate, but celebrate responsibly.”
Reynolds added that people had “seen the positive effects that gathering in small groups can have” while the previous restrictions were in place during the Thanksgiving holiday, so she believes they will observe similar limits on their own.
“As I indicated, I believe Iowans have stepped up and done the right thing,” she said when asked about eliminating the size restrictions. “And I believe they’ll continue to make the right decision.”
The limited mask mandate Reynolds included in her Nov. 16 order, which requires people to wear face masks if they will be in an indoor setting for more than 15 minutes and unable to maintain six feet of distance from others, will remain in effect.
Reynolds, who had been one of the few governors never to order any sort of face mask mandate, or even permit municipalities from doing so, was asked if she thought the limited mask mandate was responsible for reducing the rate at which cases of COVID-10 are increasing in Iowa.
“No, I think it’s all of the mitigations that come together,” she replied.
When the governor introduced new COVID-19 orders during a televised speech on Nov. 16, she said, “the pandemic in Iowa is worse than it has ever been.”
That surge had begun building in September, but the governor did not take new actions — beyond announcing an advertising campaign encouraging people to behave responsibly — until after the November election.
As Reynolds noted in her televised address on Nov. 16, “Over the last two weeks there have been more than 52,000 cases of the virus in Iowa.” The number of new cases over the previous 14 days as of Wednesday was 26,371.
To provide some context for that number, it took Iowa 15 weeks to reach 26,000 confirmed cases at the start of the pandemic, and slightly more than seven weeks to add another 26,000 cases after that.
At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported a total of 260,237 Iowans had tested positive for COVID-19, an increase of 1,986 from the previous day at that time. Forty-three residents of Johnson County and 77 residents of Linn County were among those newly diagnosed with the virus.
Almost a third of Iowa’s long-term care facilities had outbreaks of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with IPDH reporting ongoing outbreaks at 141 facilities.
Like the number of new cases over 14 days, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has declined by about half since its peak in mid-November, but remains high. On Wednesday morning IDPH said there were 776 patients with confirmed cases, 108 of whom had been admitted in the previous 24 hours. One hundred and fifty-two of the state’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients are being treated in intensive care units.
Reynolds said during her prepared remarks on Wednesday that the improvement in COVID-19 statics over the last month “doesn’t mean that our work is done, but it’s proof that we have the tools necessary to effectively manage the virus, while balancing the activities of our daily lives.”
Asked during the question-and-answer period why she is relaxing restrictions that have apparently helped reduce virus spread, Reynolds said, “I don’t want to over-restrict. I think you have to be careful of doing that.”
The governor said one of the reasons she believed Iowa won’t have another spike in cases is because people are likely to do the right thing since they can see “light at the end of the tunnel” as vaccine distribution begins in the state.
That light dimmed slightly on Wednesday night, as IDPH issued a statement saying the Trump administration informed them it is cutting the amount of COVID-19 vaccine Iowa and other states will receive.
“Today the federal government notified the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) that the State of Iowa, as well as all other states, will not receive the volume of vaccine initially anticipated,” the statement said. “It appears our allocation may be reduced by as much as 30%, however we are working to gain confirmation and additional details from our federal partners. It will take us some time to work through next steps and adjust our planning.”
The department did not say what reason the Trump administration gave for the cutback.