DES MOINES — Iowa’s partial face mask mandate, public health restrictions on businesses, and limits on public gatherings are being lifted.
Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday afternoon updated her COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. The update, effective Sunday, eliminated most restrictions that had been in place to combat COVID-19’s spread.
- No longer will Iowans be required to wear face coverings in public when around other people for at least 15 minutes.
- Businesses will not be required to limit the number of customers or keep them socially distanced.
- There will no longer be a limit on the number of people who can gather in public.
In the updated proclamation, Reynolds encourages vulnerable Iowans — those 65 years or older, or with serious health conditions — to “limit their activities outside of their home,” including trips to businesses and other establishments where other people gather.
Reynolds also encourages all Iowans to limit their in-person interactions with vulnerable people, and to “exercise particular care and caution” when in public.
Businesses contacted by The Courier about the change noted there are still local government mask mandates in place when people are in public in Waterloo and Cedar Falls.
Jordan Makinster, a manager at SingleSpeed Brewing Co. in Waterloo, said the taproom and restaurant is planning no changes in how it operates to minimize COVID-19 spread.
“We have six-foot boards that we’re kind of putting in between groups,” he said, to maintain social distancing. “We’re still going to have people have masks on when they’re up from their tables.”
Reynolds’ actions to lift mitigation strategies comes at a time when COVID-19 numbers have been steadily decreasing in Iowa.
However, the lifting of restrictions also comes as the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution has been among the slowest in the country; a new, more contagious strain of the virus has been detected here; and the state has ordered K-12 schools to offer in-person instruction to all students.
The two-week averages for new cases and COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths have been dropping precipitously since the pandemic’s largest spike in late November and early December. However, those averages remain higher than they were at any point in the nearly year-long pandemic prior to that early winter surge.
And while the COVID-19 vaccine is now available and being distributed across the country, the rollout in Iowa has been among the slowest in the country. Roughly 7% of Iowans have received at least the first of two shots required for the vaccine; that’s among the three lowest rates in the country, according to federal data tracked by the Washington Post and New York Times.
Last week the state public health department confirmed three cases of a new COVID-19 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, that medical experts believe spreads more easily than the original strain of the virus. One case was reported in Bremer County. Experts believe current vaccines are also effective against the new strain.
Beginning Feb. 15, all K-12 schools in Iowa will be required to offer 100% in-person instruction to all students. Some districts have been conducting classes entirely online or through an alternating schedule of instruction days conducted on-site and virtually. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday it is safe to have students on-site, even if teachers and staff have not yet been vaccinated.
More than 5,000 Iowans have died from COVID-related causes over the course of the pandemic.
Iowa House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, issued a statement that criticized the latest moves by Reynolds, a Republican.
“Just as Iowa hit the grim milestone of 5,000 COVID deaths this week, Gov. Reynolds is doubling down on her failed COVID response. It’s both reckless and tragic. This is failed leadership,” Prichard said Friday. “We all want to get life back to normal and the fastest way to do that is to follow the guidelines from the CDC until more Iowans can get vaccinated. Ending the public health measures designed to keep Iowa safe and healthy will only prolong the COVID crisis’s effect on our economy and put more lives at risk.”