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Gov. Reynolds extends bar closures in Johnson, Story counties

Gov. Reynolds extends bar closures in Johnson, Story counties

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Bars in Johnson and Story counties — home to Iowa’s two largest universities — must remain closed another week to help address the continuing high number of new COVID-19 cases there, Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered Friday.

Just days before her initial closure order was to expire at midnight Sunday, the governor ordered bars, breweries, nightclubs and similar establishments in the two counties around the University of Iowa and Iowa State University to remain shuttered until 11:59 p.m. Sept. 27.

Reynolds initially ordered bars to close in six counties where coronavirus cases were surging. They included the university communities of Iowa City, Ames and Cedar Falls where students were observed crowding bars just before fall classes started, showing little regard for social distancing and wearing masks except to get past bouncers at the doors.

Reynolds lifted the closures early for bars in the four other counties.

Jason Zeman, co-owner of the Yacht Club and Studio 13 bars in Iowa City, said he was on a Zoom call with other bar owners and community members — planning for reopening — when the governor’s order came.

Zeman said it’s frustrating to continue getting these announcements at the last minute. He said would like better communication and a set standard for when bars would be able to open or need to close so he and his staff can plan.

“We’re trying to understand what metrics we’re supposed to be looking at — other counties have higher positivity rates. If it’s going to continue, we just need to know,” he said.

“I just hope there are enforcement of guidelines on things like house parties — today there was a huge number of new cases, and we haven’t been open for four weeks ... I understand the limitations during the pandemic but it’s frustrating when only two counties out of 99 are allowed to be open and given a chance.”

The order, first issued late last month, affects bars, taverns, wineries, breweries, distilleries, nightclubs, country clubs or other social or fraternal clubs, including wedding reception venues. But while the businesses must stay closed to the public, the establishments are permitted to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption off premises.

Restaurants in the two affected counties are allowed to remain open, but still must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.

In previous public statements, Reynolds said the move was necessary to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus among people in the 19- to 24-year-old age range.

In a revised order earlier this week, Reynolds allowed bars in Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn and Polk counties to reopen beginning Wednesday.

Friday’s proclamation also extends other public health measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 at businesses until Oct. 18. Under these rules, bars and restaurants must continue to ensure 6 feet of distancing between patrons and to limit congregating.

Gyms, casinos, salons, theaters and other businesses are required to continue meeting hygiene, social distancing and other public health measures under Reynolds’ orders.

She indicated this week her administration plans a more targeted approach to enforcement against “bad-actor” businesses violating these COVID-19 restrictions, rather than issuing countywide orders.

“I’m trying to protect the health and safety of Iowans. I’m trying to protect the livelihoods of Iowans,” Reynolds said Wednesday during a news conference.

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