Reynolds broadens mask requirements, limits bar, restaurant hours, to combat COVID-19 in Iowa
After months of rebuffing calls for a broad mask mandate to fight COVID-19, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Monday evening that all people ages 2 and older must wear a face covering when in an indoor space that is open to the public.
Her order applies when people who are not members of the same household will be within six feet of one another for 15 minutes or more.
There are several exceptions, including people eating or drinking at bars and restaurants, people with medical disabilities that prevent wearing face coverings, and people participating in religious services.
Mask requirements do not apply to in-classroom education, Reynolds' staff clarified after she delivered a live, televised address about the new rules.
The proclamation, effective from Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 12:01 a.m. until Thursday, Dec. 10, at 11:59 p.m., also bans indoor gatherings of 15 people or more and outdoor gatherings of 30 or more.
Those limits also apply to wedding and funeral receptions, family gatherings and other nonessential indoor gatherings of people who do not live or work together.
Reynolds also limited the operating hours of bars and restaurants to 6 a.m.-10 p.m., although carryout and drive-through service is allowed before and after those hours.
Reynolds released the proclamation spelling out the requirements early Monday evening, and announced the new measures a short time later in a rare, televised speech.
She spoke as the state nears 2,000 deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and more than 1,500 Iowans are hospitalized with it.
Reynolds said during her address that the new measures are in response to the state's health care system "being pushed to the brink."
More:Grim marker: Iowa's COVID-19 deaths exceed 2,000 as coronavirus infections accelerate
"No one wants to do this," Reynolds said. "I don't want to do this, especially as we're coming into a holiday season that is normally filled with joy.
"I cherish Thanksgiving with my family. And this year we're postponing that. My children and grandchildren will not gather together in my home as we do every year and as I had hoped that we would do this year. But it's to keep them safe, and it's to keep you safe."
Reynolds' new proclamation comes less than a week after — and goes well beyond — mask requirements she imposed for some indoor gatherings of 25 or more people and some outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people. It also comes about a week after the White House coronavirus task force reported that combating the "unyielding COVID spread across Iowa" requires stiffer measures.
Reynolds had previously rebuffed mask mandates as unenforceable and dismissed those imposed by cities and counties as being beyond their legal authority. However, she has encouraged mask use when people are in public and unable to maintain safe social distance.
More:A big wedding reception? Yes. The movies? Not necessarily. Here's where Iowa does and does not require masks
More:Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds: Masks required at high school sports; no specific guidance on college sports
On Thursday, the Iowa State Board of Health voted 7-2 to urge Reynolds to institute a statewide mask mandate, regardless of crowd size, Radio Iowa reported. All of the board members were appointed or reappointed by Reynolds.
Though the new requirement represented a significant shift in Reynolds' position, caveats it contained left some public health experts dissatisfied.
Dr. Eli Perencevich, a top infectious disease researcher at the University of Iowa, tweeted criticisms about allowing restaurants to stay open until 10 p.m. and the 15-minute time span before the mask requirement kicks in.
Lina Tucker Reinders, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association, called the requirement "long overdue," but said it gets Iowa closer to universal masking. She noted that the business restrictions also are short of last spring's lockdown, when bars, restaurants and many other businesses were closed for an extended period. But she said they are a reminder to Iowans that staying home is the right thing to do.
Tucker Reinders likened mask-wearing to filling sandbags before a flood or helping clear trees after August's derecho.
"We do it not because it's fun, but because it's what Iowans do to protect our communities," she wrote in an email after Reynolds' address. "Wearing your mask, supporting local businesses with take-out orders, staying home when ill, and cooperating with contact tracers is our new display of patriotism. It is what we must do to protect the common good."
In addition to the mask requirement, Reynolds’ proclamation sharply limits “non-essential or elective procedures” provided by Iowa hospitals and outpatient surgery centers. The proclamation says some such surgeries may continue, but only those that “if further delayed, will pose a significant risk to quality of life.”
The proclamation says hospitals must continue to accept COVID-19 patients, and may not transfer them to make room for patients undergoing elective procedures. In addition, hospitals must reserve at least 10% of their intensive care unit beds and 10% of their medical/surgical beds for COVID-19 patients.
The new proclamation does not include an explicit enforcement provision, though prior guidance from the governor's office says violating Reynolds public health orders is a simple misdemeanor.
Reynolds said the proclamation wasn't about strict enforcement, however.
"This isn't about mandates," she said. "This isn't about government. There isn't enough law enforcement in the country to make sure that every Iowan is wearing a mask when they should.
"... If Iowans don't buy into this, we lose. Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online and our health care system will fail, and the cost in human life will be high. So now is the time to come together for the greater good. To look out for each other. Not because you're told to, but because it's the right thing to do. That's who we are as Iowans.
More:'COVID slide': Student achievement, grades fall in some Iowa school districts, in both online, in-person classes
Restaurants worry about future with cut hours, no strong mask mandate
The new restriction on restaurant hours had some owners concerned about their future Monday. Larry Mason, owner of Club 525 in Des Moines' East Village, said it will make it even harder to operate his business, which already is stifled by social distancing requirements that limit capacity. Most patrons don't visit the bar until after 10, he said. If it can't be open then, he questioned whether it should open at all.
“She’s killing us,” Mason said. “She’s killing our business.”
Club 525 opened in June, shortly after the first round of COVID-19 closures were lifted in Iowa. Mason said the state had not provided adequate guidance or financial assistance to bar and restaurant owners over the course of the pandemic.
“It would be nice if they had a game plan in order, at least so we could see a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Right now, we don’t know what the heck is going to happen from day to day.”
In addition to the restricted hours, Reynolds' proclamation lays out clearer guidelines for mask use and social distancing inside restaurants and bars. Tables must still be at least six feet apart, but under the new order, groups of more than eight may not sit together unless all members live in the same household. Customers must wear a mask when they are not seated. Restaurant and bar staff who interact with customers also must be masked.
When a restaurant hosts a private gathering, it must not exceed 15 people indoors or 30 people outdoors, regardless of the size of groups seated together at individual tables.
Carrie Hansen, co-owner of the Manhattan Deli on Ingersoll Avenue, said a stronger mask mandate would help keep her business running.
“I think she fell short,” she said. “We feel mask-wearing is essential to keeping our doors open. We require a mask and 99% of our customers are compliant. But we have some leave because they don’t want to wear masks.
“I just feel if it was required of everybody that it would take the politics and personal views out of this and everyone would have to do it.”
More:Jammed Des Moines hospitals could see COVID-19 cases double by Thanksgiving, expert warns
More:The Iowans we've lost to COVID-19
The proclamation requires people 2 years old or older to wear a mask or other face covering while in an indoor public space if they are within six feet of other people for 15 minutes or longer.
There are exceptions for:
- Anyone with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a mask
- Anyone working alone or in a space where they can maintain six feet of distance between themselves and others, or can otherwise avoid prolonged contact with others
- Anyone eating or drinking, or sitting at a table to eat or drink at a restaurant or bar
- Any athlete participating in a sporting event, or anyone who is exercising
- Anyone giving a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical or theatrical presentation for an audience
- Anyone participating in a spiritual or religious service
- Anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing and anyone communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing or has another disability or condition that makes communicating with a mask difficult
- Anyone obtaining or providing a service that requires temporarily removing a mask
- Anyone asked to remove their mask to verify their identity
- Any public safety worker in a public safety role if a mask or face covering “would seriously interfere in the performance of their public safety responsibilities”
Des Moines Register staff writers Stephen Gruber-Miller, Katie Akin, Brianne Pfannenstiel, Lee Rood and Tony Leys contributed to this article.
Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or at 515-284-8361.