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Gov. Reynolds announces limited mask mandate (copy)

DES MOINES — Iowans must wear a face covering while indoors in public and near other people for at least 15 minutes under a new public health order issued Monday evening by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The face mask requirement is part of new orders issued as COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly through Iowa, creating the state’s highest rates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths during the pandemic.

Reynolds’ order, which goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, also places a limit of 15 people on all indoor gatherings, including wedding and funeral receptions, family gatherings, conventions and festivals. The order limits outdoor gatherings to 30 people. However, the restrictions do not apply to gatherings in the workplace as part of normal daily business or government operations.

Restaurants and bars are allowed to remain open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

In what is believed to be the first-ever live address from an Iowa governor televised during prime time, Reynolds posited that Iowans may have become complacent, possibly leading to the latest spikes in cases. She warned those spikes threaten to overwhelm Iowa’s health care system, echoing warnings issued by hospital officials. Reynolds noted if COVID-19 patients overwhelm hospitals, all Iowans who need health care will be in danger.

“Right now, the pandemic in Iowa is worse than it has ever been,” Reynolds said. “That’s why I’m talking directly to you tonight, to ask for your help, not just as your governor, but as a daughter, as a mother, as a grandmother. It’s up to all of us so that the worst-case scenarios that I just described don’t become our reality.”

Reynolds’ address came on a day when Iowa posted 2,350 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 187,035 since the virus was first detected in Iowa last March. Monday’s six confirmed deaths brings the total to 1,991.

Iowa has seen hospitalizations more than double since Nov. 1 with Monday’s number marking the largest single-day net increase. COVID-19 hospitalizations increased 113 on Monday to 1,392 — an 8.8% jump that was the largest in a single day — with 271 patients in intensive-care units and 123 needing ventilators.

Iowa has the fourth-highest rate of spread in the U.S., according to the latest report from the White House COVID-19 task force.

“Our health care system is being pushed to the brink,” Reynolds said.

The face mask requirement includes exceptions, including for people with a medical condition or disability that would be aggravated by a mask, the deaf or hard of hearing, people who work alone or more than 6 feet away from others, people who are eating or drinking, and public safety workers whose duties would be hindered by a face mask.

All organized youth and adult sports activities of any size are suspended under the governor’s order — including basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, dance, and group fitness classes at gyms.

High school, collegiate and professional sports are allowed to continue, but spectators are limited to two per student and are required to wear a mask.

Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, bingo halls, and indoor playgrounds are required to close at 10 p.m. and cannot host private gatherings of more than 15 people. Masks must be worn by staff who have direct contact with customers, and customers must wear masks when they are not seated at their table to eat or drink. The proclamation also requires masks inside casinos.

Hospitals must reduce inpatient elective procedures by 50 percent.

The latest orders continue until 11:59 p.m. Dec. 10.

Reynolds did not require but “strongly” encouraged all vulnerable Iowans to limit activities outside their homes, and encouraged all Iowans to limit in-person interactions with vulnerable Iowans.

Studies have shown COVID-19 is more dangerous to older people and those with health issues.

“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, and I know without a doubt that we’ll get through this together.”

Iowa U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley joined the chorus Monday, taking to the Senate floor to urge Iowans to “step up their personal responsibility” in combating the COVID-19 community spread.

“Although promising vaccines for the coronavirus are on the horizon; it’s more important than ever to stop the surge,” Grassley said in prepared remarks. “It’s critical for Iowans to step up their personal responsibility, to stay safe and healthy. For themselves and their loved ones.”


Local
AP breaking alert featured
Iowa governor orders limited mask mandate, new restrictions
  • Updated

IOWA CITY — With Iowa hospitals filling up, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds dropped her longtime opposition to a statewide mask mandate and enacted a limited version of one on Monday.

Reynolds announced new restrictions in a rare evening televised speech. She said they would not be easy or popular, but were necessary to fight a virus that was threatening to overwhelm the state’s health care system.

“If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose,” she said. “Businesses will close once again. More schools will be forced to go online. 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.”

She said her new restrictions weren’t “about mandates” or government, saying there wasn’t enough law enforcement in the country to enforce the mask requirements or business restrictions.

The speech marked a change of tone and policy for Reynolds, who weeks ago was joining President Donald Trump and other Republicans at crowded rallies where many people did not wear masks. The governor said last week the outcome of the election in which Republicans dominated state races validated her small government approach.

Since then, the pandemic’s toll has rapidly worsened. One in every 100 state residents received a COVID-19 diagnosis in the week that ended Sunday, even as others reported delays in getting tests or were awaiting results. That was the third-worst diagnosis rate in the nation, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

A record 1,510 people infected with COVID-19 were hospitalized statewide, after another surge of new patients was reported Monday evening. The number hospitalized doubled in two weeks and was expected to increase further in coming days after a surge of infections. It included 130 people fighting for their lives on ventilators.

For months, Reynolds rejected the consensus of public health experts and refused to enact a statewide mask mandate, claiming one would be ineffective. But she said the rapidly rising number of hospitalized patients was not sustainable and changed her thinking.

Without stronger mitigation, she warned that medical care may not be available for those who need it for any reason.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City was “very full” and making adjustments to free up beds for the most critically ill patients, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The public health department for Polk County reported over the weekend that hospitals in the Des Moines metropolitan area were also filling up in an “alarming and urgent” situation.

Staffing was a particular concern, as more workers are in isolation or quarantine due to community spread and others are exhausted from months of work fighting the pandemic.

Hospitals are limiting procedures in order to preserve bed capacity, and transferring patients elsewhere when necessary, said Iowa Hospital Association President Kirk Norris.

The Iowa Department of Public Health issued an emergency Request for Proposals on Monday seeking a contractor to conduct contact tracing and case investigation services. The department announced that proposals were due Tuesday, saying outside help was needed quickly “due to the steady increase in case volume” that has overwhelmed its resources.

On Tuesday, Iowa is expected to hit the grim milestone of 2,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

For thousands of public school students, Monday marked the beginning of taking virtual classes from their homes. Several of the largest districts, including those in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, received waivers from the state last week to close in-person instruction for at least two weeks.

The rate of infection was highest in three rural counties that house state prisons where the virus has spread among inmates and staff. In Jones County, 741 inmates at the Anamosa State Penitentiary had tested positive — roughly 3 of every 4 incarcerated there, according to the Department of Corrections.

State prisons in Clarinda and Rockwell City were reporting hundreds more cases among inmates, and dozens of prison employees were also infected.

The department announced that two more inmates died of complications after contracting the virus — 72-year-old Gene Dryer and 59-year-old Jonathan Strain.


Local
breaking featured
Hoopla Kickoff Cruise to welcome Santa to downtown Cedar Falls Nov. 27
  • Updated

CEDAR FALLS — Santa Claus is still comin’ to town on the day after Thanksgiving in downtown Cedar Falls.

In a COVID-19 twist on the 12th annual Holiday Hoopla, residents will be the ones waving to Santa from their own vehicles during the first-ever Hoopla Kickoff Cruise from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 27.

The Holiday Hoopla committee, known as the “Hoo Herd,” eliminated the annual stage extravaganza and fireworks display that attracts thousands of visitors to the Parkade each year. “We thought about what we wouldn’t have to cancel, and two things people are most passionate about are downtown decorations and bringing in Santa,” said Kim Bear, Cedar Falls Community Main Street executive director.

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Those activities are where the committee has focused its efforts.

BRANDON POLLOCK, COURIER STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER 

Santa Claus watches fireworks during Holiday Hoopla in downtown Cedar Falls in 2019.

Santa traditionally makes a grand entrance at Holiday Hoopla — on skis, or from atop a building, for example. This year, Santa will be at one of 12 stations along the “reverse” parade route, waving at drive-by spectators. The public is being asked to stay in their vehicles for the duration of the parade and follow the predetermined route to prevent crowds from gathering and to allow unobstructed viewing.

“When you think of a parade, you think about floats. For this parade, people are essentially driving past different floats at 12 stations, some new fun ones, a few that will bring back memories of previous Holiday Hooplas, like the snow globe and various characters, and some surprises,” Bear explained.

COVID-19 safety measures will ensure parade volunteers wear masks and properly distance during the event.

Dressing downtown in holiday finery began Sunday and is expected to continue through Wednesday. Downtown businesses, restaurants and shops will participate in decorating windows with holiday themes for “Window Wonderland.” Voting for the people’s choice winner will be online at www.cfholidayhoopla.com.

Children can write letters to Santa and drop them in the Santa mailbox at Fourth and Main streets. The last day for letters is Dec. 21. The Jolly Old Elf will reply to letters if a return address is included.

Children also can enter the coloring contest by downloading the page at www.cfholidayhoopla.com. Participants are asked to return the completed Santa-themed coloring page to the red Santa mailbox.

Other activities will be announced at a later date.

“We’re also encouraging people to shop locally. Downtown merchants are doing a great job with different options and ways to shop online and pick up curbside,” Bear said.

The Hoo Herd is chaired by Lee Ann Saul. Molly Schmidt is chairing the Hoopla Kickoff Cruise.


National
AP
2nd virus vaccine shows striking success
  • Updated

A second experimental COVID-19 vaccine — this one from Moderna Inc. — yielded extraordinarily strong early results Monday, another badly needed dose of hope as the pandemic enters a terrible new phase.

Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from an ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own vaccine looked 90% effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.

The results are “truly striking,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious-diseases expert. “The vaccines that we're talking about, and vaccines to come, are really the light at the end of the tunnel.”

A vaccine can’t come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the U.S. over the weekend — 1 million of them recorded in just the past week — and governors and mayors are ratcheting up restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving. The outbreak has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, over 246,000 of them in the U.S.

Both vaccines require two shots, given several weeks apart. U.S. officials said they hope to have about 20 million Moderna doses and another 20 million of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to use in late December.

Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, welcomed the “really important milestone” but said having similar results from two companies is what’s most reassuring.

“That should give us all hope that actually a vaccine is going to be able to stop this pandemic and hopefully get us back to our lives,” Hoge told The Associated Press. He added: “It won’t be Moderna alone that solves this problem. It’s going to require many vaccines” to meet the global demand.

If the Food and Drug Administration allows emergency use of Moderna’s or Pfizer’s candidate, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year.

Exactly who is first in line has yet to be decided. But Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the hope is that enough doses are available by the end of January to vaccinate adults over 65, who are at the highest risk from the coronavirus, and health care workers. Fauci said it may take until spring or summer before anyone who is not high risk and wants a shot can get one.

Neal Browning of Bothell, Washington, who rolled up his sleeve back in March for the first testing of Moderna's vaccine in humans, said he is excited about Monday's “excellent news” but is still carefully wearing a mask and taking other precautions.

“I'm super happy to be a part of this and to try and help bring some kind of peace back to the world,” Browning said. “I have a lot of hope.”

The National Institutes of Health helped create the vaccine Moderna is manufacturing, and NIH's director, Dr. Francis Collins, said the two companies' parallel results give scientists "a lot of confidence that we're on the path towards having effective vaccines.”

But “we're also at this really dark time,” he warned, saying people can't let down their guard during the months it will take for doses of any vaccines cleared by the FDA to start reaching a large share of the population.

Moderna’s vaccine is being studied in 30,000 volunteers who received either the real thing or a dummy shot. On Sunday, an independent monitoring board examined 95 infections that were recorded after volunteers’ second shot. Only five of the illnesses were in people given the vaccine.

Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 60% effective.

The study is continuing, and Moderna acknowledged the protection rate might change as more COVID-19 infections are detected. Also, it’s too soon to know how long protection lasts. Both cautions apply to Pfizer’s vaccine as well.

Scientists not involved with the testing were encouraged but cautioned that the FDA still must scrutinize the safety data and decide whether to allow vaccinations outside of a research study.

“We’re not to the finish line yet,” said Dr. James Cutrell, an infectious-disease expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “If there’s an impression or perception that there’s just a rubber stamp, or due diligence wasn’t done to look at the data, that could weaken public confidence.”

Meanwhile, an internal email obtained by The Associated Press shows the World Health Organization has recorded 65 cases of the coronavirus among staff based at its headquarters, including five people who worked on the premises and were in contact with one another.

The U.N. health agency said it is investigating how and where the five people became infected — and that it has not determined whether transmission happened at its offices. WHO's confirmation Monday of the figures in the email was the first time it has publicly provided such a count.

“To my knowledge, the cluster being investigated is the first evidence of potential transmission on the site of WHO,” Dr. Michael Ryan, the agency's chief of emergencies, told reporters Monday after the AP reported on the internal email.