UPDATE: Governor loosens COVID-19 restrictions to many Iowa counties

UPDATE: Governor loosens COVID-19 restrictions to many Iowa counties

From the Coronavirus update Northeast Iowa series
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JOHNSTON (AP) — Iowa will allow restaurants and stores in most counties to reopen and church services to resume across the state, despite a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths, the governor said Monday.

The order will not apply to Black Hawk County, which leads the state with 1,346 coronavirus cases and has seen 11 deaths, including two reported Monday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an order allowing malls, restaurants, fitness centers, libraries and retail stores to reopen in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties beginning Friday. The order requires they operate only at 50 percent capacity and implement social distancing rules, such as limiting tables at restaurants to six and banning buffets and child play areas.

Reynolds ordered existing restrictions continue through May 15 in the other 22 counties, including — Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Dallas, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fayette, Henry, Iowa, Jasper, Johnson, Linn, Louisa, Marshall, Muscatine, Polk, Poweshiek, Scott, Tama, Washington and Woodbury.

Theaters, casinos, barbershops, salons, museums, playgrounds and swimming pools remain closed statewide through May 15.

In all, the counties that will partially reopen have about 43 percent of the state’s 3.2 million residents. The largest cities in them include Ames and Council Bluffs. Reynolds said 14 of the counties have no confirmed cases and the other 63 have seen a decline in virus activity over the last 14 days.

Bars in those 77 counties that prepare and serve food on site — beyond snacks or commercially prepared items like frozen pizzas — are considered restaurants and can reopen, the governor’s office said. Those that do not must stay closed.

Reynolds also is lifting a prohibition on religious and spiritual gatherings statewide, allowing them to resume without regard to their size, citing the “significant constitutional liberties involved.” She said other community events would still be limited to 10 people or less.

The governor’s orders came as Iowa has seen an explosion of coronavirus cases that one study found was the fastest increase in the nation over a recent 7-day period. Waterloo, Sioux City and Des Moines have seen particularly fast-growing case counts, many tied to meatpacking plants and nursing homes. The state’s Latino and black populations have been particularly hard hit.

Iowa’s coronavirus cases grew Monday by 349, for a total of more than 5,868 since the first was confirmed March 8. Reynolds said nine more residents have died, for a death toll of 127. The number of patients hospitalized hit 300 for the first time.

Public health officials have said they don’t expect the pandemic in Iowa to peak for another two weeks. They said Monday an Iowa-specific forecast was still being developed, and they have been withholding from the public a University of Iowa report that uses available data to make such projections.

Iowa has increased its capacity to test citizens for the coronavirus, but is only beginning a program to operate drive-thru sites statewide that could take weeks to be fully running.

Democrats denounced the Republican governor’s orders, which they said would exacerbate the spread of the virus and weren’t based on public health considerations.

“Iowa is experiencing staggering daily infections, record-high deaths, and it has yet to hit its peak,” said Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines. “This is not the time to try to make people happy by randomly reopening segments of the economy like crowded farmers markets.”

The governor said she had taken “significant mitigation measures to protect Iowans” but they weren’t sustainable and have unintended consequences on families. She said it was time to shift toward managing the virus in a way that balances health and economic concerns.

“We can protect lives and secure livelihoods at the same time,” she said.

Reynolds said she is still urging vulnerable populations, such as people over age 60 and with underlying health conditions, to stay home and avoid crowded settings. She said everyone should “practice personal responsibility” when deciding whether to travel to counties that are reopening to eat or shop.

Reynolds announced there were now a total of 5,868 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties and 127 deaths from COVID-19. Thirty-four percent of infected Iowans have recovered from the virus.

As of Monday, Allamakee County had a total of 72 cases and three deaths from the virus, while Bremer County had 45 cases and three deaths. Tama County has 259 cases and seven deaths.

Butler County has eight cases, Chickasaw County has four cases, Fayette County has 16 cases, Franklin County has two cases, Grundy County has nine cases, Hardin County has seven cases, Howard County has six cases, and Winneshiek County has 24 cases.

Seven of Black Hawk County’s 11 deaths are adults between the ages of 61 and 80, and the remainder are middle-aged adults between 41 and 60, according to IDPH data. Among the county’s confirmed cases are 14 children under 18, 375 cases are ages 18 to 40, 374 cases are ages 41 to 60, 70 cases are ages 61 to 80 and 11 cases are adults over 81 years of age.

The majority of Iowa’s confirmed cases are among people ages 18 through 40, at 2,311 cases. That’s followed by people ages 41 through 60, at 2,262 cases.

But it’s elderly Iowans falling victim to the virus, with 57 of the state’s 127 deaths. That’s followed by people ages 61 through 80, at 51 of the deaths.

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