DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday the state has streamlined the process for punishing establishments that ignore public safety directives, which allowed her to reopen bars in all but two Iowa counties.
Her administration will take a targeted enforcement approach in dealing with “bad-actor” businesses that violate COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m trying to thread that needle,” Reynolds said in defending her Aug. 27 decision to temporarily close bars and restrict alcohol sales in six counties where the number of COVID-19 cases had spiked.
“I’m trying to protect the health and safety of Iowans. I’m trying to protect the livelihoods of Iowans,” the governor noted.
She said the closures became necessary because enforcement efforts weren’t working.
On Tuesday, Reynolds issued an order allowing bars in four counties — Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn and Polk — to reopen but keeps bars around the University of Iowa in Iowa City and Iowa State University in Ames closed until at least Sunday.
She also removed restrictions on hours alcohol may be sold in restaurants in those four counties and clarified social distancing requirements that still apply to all bars and restaurants in the state.
Reynolds said she hopes the closures in the six counties got people’s attention regarding the seriousness of the pandemic and the need to follow safety guidelines.
“Now that we’ve seen the trends come down,” she said, “they know that we’re serious about enforcement and following the guidelines of the emergency health declaration.
“We’ll continue to monitor the counties. But in addition to that, we’ve streamlined the enforcement process,” she said.
Due process, she said, had been taking weeks. It will now happen in a week’s time, she said.
“We can go in, we can continue to do education, we can give them a little warning, and if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, then we will take the next step, which is to fine and to shut them down.
“My goal — since we can do that in a more timely manner — we need to punish the bad actors and not the ones that are doing it right,” she added. “I didn’t have the luxury of doing that with the spike in cases that we’ve seen.
“Since then, we’ve refined the process. We believe we can now do that moving forward.”
Reynolds said the enforcement approach is intended to strike a balance between compliance and consequences.