'I don't make these decisions lightly': Gov. Kim Reynolds closes bars in 6 counties amid coronavirus spikes

To combat spiking coronavirus cases, Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday ordered the shutdown of all bars, breweries and nightclubs in six of Iowa's most populous counties. 

The closure order, affecting Polk, Linn, Johnson, Story, Dallas and Black Hawk counties, also bans restaurants from selling alcohol after 10 p.m.

The order is in effect until Sept. 20. 

Reynolds cited high positive test rates among adults age 19 to 24. Statewide, that age group has accounted for 23% of all new positive coronavirus tests over the past two weeks. 

In Johnson County, home of the University of Iowa, that age band accounted for 69% of the positive coronavirus tests over the past week. In Story County, home of Iowa State University, they made up 74% in the same period.  

“While we still know that this population is less likely to be severely impacted by COVID-19, it is increasing the virus activity in the community, and it’s spilling over to other segments of the population,” Reynolds said.

While some local officials applauded the more stringent health precautions in areas with high spread, others said Reynolds has been too slow to act. 

"It's better than nothing," Johnson County supervisor Rod Sullivan said Thursday. "But it's too little, too late." 

Reynolds ordered bars, along with many other businesses, to close this spring to slow the coronavirus. She allowed them to reopen with restrictions in late May and lifted capacity limits in June. 

More:Full text of Gov. Kim Reynolds' order closing bars in 6 Iowa counties

More:What does a second shutdown mean for Iowa bars?

Iowa reported a spike in coronavirus cases Thursday morning, with more than 1,400 new positive tests reported over the preceding 24 hours. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 59,000 Iowans have tested positive for the virus and more than 1,000 have died.

The coronavirus causes COVID-19, a highly contagious and potentially fatal respiratory disease. People with underlying health conditions are particularly susceptible to serious illness if they contract it.

Reynolds said Thursday morning she’s concerned the spread of the virus will start to affect the workforce, particularly the health care and education sectors. She also noted that flu season will soon begin.

“I don't make these decisions lightly, and it's not lost on me that every business forced to close all through their hours and sales, even temporarily, plays a role in the lives of Iowa workers and our small businesses,” Reynolds said. “But these actions are absolutely necessary.”

Reynolds called on police to enforce the new requirements and asked for people who gather with 10 or more to practice social distancing. She did not rule out further restrictions to stem the spread of the virus.

“It is my hope that we’ll be able to dial back these restrictions in the near future,” Reynolds said. “But if they simply move large-scale parties and other high-risk activity elsewhere, then we’re going to be prepared to do more.”

Universities, schools battling rising cases

Reynolds' proclamation comes as Iowa's public universities battle coronavirus cases as the fall semester draws students back to campus. 

Last week, at least 107 students and four employees at the University of Iowa had tested positive, and 19 students were quarantining in residence halls.  

After images circulated on social media of people packed into Iowa City’s downtown bars last weekend, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld on Monday told students they need to take responsibility to limit the spread of the coronavirus. He issued a statement Thursday applauding Reynolds' move. 

"Without those actions I was very concerned about the rise in cases and the upcoming weekend," he said in his statement.

At Iowa State University, officials on Monday reported that 130 students, staff and faculty members had tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Many of Iowa's K-12 schools welcomed students this week, under a Reynolds proclamation mandating 50% in-person instruction. The Iowa Department of Education has said it will not publicly report COVID-19 outbreaks at schools as it does for nursing homes, but some of those schools are already reporting coronavirus outbreaks.

After cases spiked in Johnson County, the Iowa Department of Education granted the Iowa City Community School District permission to begin the school year online. The approval comes days after the district joined the Iowa State Education Association in a lawsuit challenging Reynolds’ 50% in-person mandate.

Clear Creek Amana High School, which sits in Johnson and Iowa counties, also announced it would move to a virtual format on Thursday after a positive COVID-19 case was reported to the school Wednesday night.

Officials from Des Moines Public Schools similarly requested state permission to jettison in-person classes. State officials denied that request. Des Moines officials are also suing the state over the in-person mandate, which can be lifted by waiver only under certain absenteeism and county positivity metrics. 

And in suburban Polk County, Ankeny school officials announced Wednesday that seven students and one staff member had tested positive for the virus and that a number of others were proactively quarantining. School started for Ankeny students on Thursday.

More:Schools are reopening in the Des Moines metro: Here's what local districts have planned this fall

Bar owner: 'She just killed my whole business'

Some bar, brewery and nightclub owners said the Thursday announcement came without warning and will further cripple an industry already suffering from the extended closures in the spring. 

“She’s killing me. She just killed my whole business," said Larry Mason, the owner of Club 525 in Des Moines' East Village. He said he had been taking plenty of precautions and business had been going strong. 

Scott Selix, owner of Lua Brewing in Des Moines and president of the Iowa Brewers’ Guild, said the order would bring more pressure.

“We see retail stores, their numbers are up hundreds of percentage points because people are just buying their beer at the store, and so we were already hurting," Selix said. "And we’re not throwing the blame at them, we were just already hurting. And now it’s worse. The hard truth is that breweries will end up closing. And we just try to minimize the damage.”

Jessica Dunker, president of the Iowa Restaurant Association, said many places will have a hard time recovering.

“Unless we get just flat-out grant money, where people are just given money so that they can come back after this, it is over," she said. " ... Quite honestly, if we can find $100 million dollars for agriculture, for an agriculture-specific fund that includes everything down to vegetable producers, we better be able to find some CARES Act money for the hospitality industry specifically.”

 More coverage:

Ames Tribune reporter Robbie Sequeira, Iowa City Press-Citizen Reporters Hillary Ojeda and Isaac Hamlet, and Des Moines Register reporters Katie Akin and Sierra Porter contributed to this report.

Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at irichardson@registermedia.com

Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at ncoltrain@registermedia.com or at 515-284-8361.

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