White House document lists Iowa in the ‘red zone,’ recommends the state mandate masks and close bars in hotspots

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Taps at Sanctuary Pub in Iowa City. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

A document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force includes Iowa as one of 18 states in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases. The document recommends that residents in nearly half of Iowa’s counties where the virus is spreading the most wear masks in public, limit public activity and not go to certain businesses, including bars.

The document is dated July 14 but was never officially published by the White House. It was obtained and published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington D.C. The document consists of more than 350 pages and includes a breakdown of recommendations, case numbers and hotspots for each state, including county-specific data.

The document lists Iowa in the red zone for cases, meaning the state had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents from July 4 to 10. Iowa had 116 new cases per 100,000 people, according to the document.

Iowa is in the yellow zone for test positivity, which means its positivity rate was between 5 and 10 percent from July 4 to 10. (Positivity rate is the percentage of people tested who were confirmed as having COVID-19.)

Iowa data from the White House Coronavirus Task Force document. “Last week” is from July 4 to July 10. “Previous week” is from June 27 to July 3. — document published by the Center for Public Integrity

Three counties — Polk, Johnson and Black Hawk — had the highest number of new cases over the last three weeks, according to the document. The counties make up 35 percent of Iowa’s new cases.

The document outlines eight general recommendations for the state before diving into county-specific information. General recommendations for Iowa include:

• Continue to promote social distancing and the wearing of cloth face coverings when outside the home

• Protect those in nursing homes and long-term care facilities by testing all staff each week and requiring staff to wear cloth face coverings

• Continue to vigorously investigate outbreaks and implement testing and intensified contact tracing

• Move to community-led testing work with local community groups to increase testing access

• In all counties with 7-day average test positivity greater than 10%, close bars, require strict social distancing within restaurants, close gyms and limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people

• Mandate wearing of cloth face coverings in counties with test positivity greater than 5%

• Continue to investigate and work aggressively to control outbreaks in meatpacking plants through ongoing testing

• Continue to track cases, test percent positivity and hospitalizations to identify local pockets of increased transmission

The document lists five counties in the red zone: Webster, Sioux, Franklin, Clarke and Osceola. These counties reported both new cases above 100 per 100,000 population and a test positivity above 10 percent, according to the document.

A total of 42 counties are in the yellow zone. The document does not list all 42 counties but does include 12 counties with the highest number of new cases reported between June 20 and July 10. Those 12 counties are Polk, Johnson, Black Hawk, Scott, Dubuque, Story, Dallas, Woodbury, Pottawattamie, Cerro Gordo, Plymouth and Marshall.

The document includes policy recommendations for red zone counties and another set of recommendations for yellow zone counties. The recommendations are divided by public messaging, public officials and testing.

Public messaging

Residents in red zone counties are recommended to wear a face mask in public, order take-out or eat outdoors with social distancing, limit social gatherings to 10 people and reduce public activity to 25 percent. Also, residents should not go to bars, night clubs or gyms.

Residents in yellow zone counties — which includes Johnson County — are also recommended to wear a mask in public and use take-out. These residents should limit social gatherings to 25 people, limit public activity to 50 percent and not go to bars or nightclubs. Individuals dining outdoors or indoors should do so only if “strict social distancing” can be maintained.

Public officials

In the five red zone counties, the report recommends that public officials close bars and gyms; create outdoor dining opportunities; and ensure that all business retailers and personal services require masks. Public gatherings should be limited to 10 people, and there should be a focus on increasing testing and contact tracing.

For the 42 yellow zone counties, public officials should limit gyms to 25 percent occupancy, close bars until positivity rates are under 3 percent and create outdoor dining opportunities. Business retailers and personal services should require masks. Like in red zone counties, there should be a focus on increasing testing and contact tracing. Public gatherings should be limited to 25 people.


The document has four recommendations for testing, which are the same for red zone and yellow zone counties. There is an emphasis on increasing access to testing, increasing contact tracing and conducting surge testing in neighborhoods with the highest case rates.


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There is currently no limit on social gatherings in Iowa. Bars and gyms in the state are able to operate at full capacity as long as social distancing is practiced.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said during her press conference on Tuesday that she might bring back the 50 percent capacity requirement on bars in light of an increase in younger Iowans testing positive. Bars operating at 50 percent is still significantly higher than what the White House report recommends.

“We’re looking at different responses, and I think the most important thing is we be very targeted in those responses,” Reynolds said. “You will not see me shut down the entire state. We know where the increases are taking place. We have some idea of what it may be tied to.”

The decision whether to require Iowans to wear masks in public is also up to Reynolds. County and city officials don’t have the authority to mandate their residents wear masks. Reynolds can delegate the ability for cities and counties, but she has indicated that she wants to leave it up to individual Iowans to choose for themselves.

The full White House Coronavirus Task Force report can be accessed online.

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