DES MOINES — Iowans must wear a face mask or other 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, effective 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, but must keep their hours of operation between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
In what is believed to be the first-ever address from an Iowa governor televised live during prime time, Reynolds on Monday night posited that Iowans may have become complacent, possibly leading to the latest spikes in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. She warned those spikes threaten to overwhelm Iowa’s health care system, echoing the warnings issued by hospital officials. Reynolds noted if COVID-19 patients overwhelm hospitals, all Iowans who need health care will be placed 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 to Iowans came on a day when Iowa posted 2,350 new positive 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 during the ongoing pandemic. Iowans being treated in hospitals for COVID-19 increased 113 on Monday to 1,392 — an 8.8 percent jump that was the largest in a single day — with 271 patients in intensive-care units and 123 needing ventilators to assist their breathing.
While COVID-19 is spreading in many states across the country, it has been spreading faster in Iowa. The state has the fourth-highest rate of spread, 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.
Reynolds for months had resisted issuing a face mask requirement despite multiple calls from public health officials and infectious disease experts in Iowa.
The face mask requirement Reynolds issued Monday includes some exceptions, including for people with a medical condition or disability that would be aggravated by a face 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.
Reynolds’ order also includes a 15-minute close contact requirement. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define “close contact” with an individual infected by or showing symptoms of COVID-19 as being within 6 feet of such an individual for at least 15 minutes. But the CDC does not include a 15-minute requirement in its recommendations for wearing face masks in public.
The CDC’s face mask guidance says simply, “Everyone 2 years of age and older should wear a mask in public settings and when they are around people who do not live in their household.”
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.
While high school sports and extracurricular activities are not prohibited, she said, spectators at games or events 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.
The proclamation also requires hospitals to ensure that inpatient elective procedures are reduced by 50 percent.
The latest orders continue until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 10.
In the new orders, 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 showed COVID-19 is more dangerous to older people and those with health issues.
“If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose,” Reynolds said. “Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online, and our health care will fail and the cost in human life will be high.
“So 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.”
He said the virus is hitting rural and urban areas in calling on Iowans to wash their hands, limit activity outside of their households, social distance at least six feet apart and wear a mask.
“We’re going to get through this together but we need everyone to do their part,” Grassley said.
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