DES MOINES, Iowa – Gov. Kim Reynolds, R-Iowa, on Monday night announced she was implementing a mask mandate and other mitigation measures due to the rise of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state.
“(O)ur state, like so many across the nation is seeing a significant increase in the spread of COVID-19. And right now, the pandemic in Iowa is worse than it has ever been. Over the last two weeks, there have been more than 52,000 new cases of the virus in Iowa, and, to put that into perspective, we had the same number of cases from the beginning of the pandemic in March to mid-August,” she said during a televised address.
“For some Iowans who have not experienced the virus firsthand that may not seem like something to worry about, because for many COVID-19 has been relatively mild, some having no symptoms at all. And I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that our children and healthy Iowans have largely been unaffected. But I’m afraid that these mild cases have created a mindset where Iowans have become complacent, where we’ve lost sight of why it was so important to flatten the curve,” she said.
She noted that five percent of Iowans with COVID-19 require hospitalizations, and because of the increase, the state’s health care system is being “pushed to the brink,” noting that one out of four patients hospitalized in the state has COVID-19.
Reynolds added that daily hospitalizations climbed from just under the 100 mark per day in mid-October to now topping 200 per day and said that number of daily admissions is not sustainable.
“If our health care system exceeds capacity, it’s not just COVID-19 we will be fighting. Every Iowan who needs medical care will be put at risk. If an ambulance is transferring a COVID-19 patient, it may not be available to respond to an accident on a rural county road. If hospital beds are full, a loved one who suffers a heart attack or a stroke may have to be transported miles away to receive life-saving treatment. And it’s not just the emergencies that are of concern. Routine procedures that can catch cancer at early stages will likely be postponed turning what would be a treatable disease into a terminal diagnosis. That’s what we are facing. That’s what we are facing if we don’t do something,” she explained.
With the new mitigation measures, she targeted activities and environments that could make a significant impact in a relatively short time.
Effective at midnight on Tuesday:
- Masks are required to be worn in indoor public spaces if Iowans cannot social distance for 15 minutes or more. (This includes visitors and employees inside state buildings.) She encouraged businesses to do the same.
- Indoor social, community, business, and leisure gatherings and events are limited to 15 people; outdoor groups are limited, including wedding and funeral receptions, family gatherings, and conventions. It does not restrict workplace gatherings that are part of regular daily business or government operations.
- Youth and adult sporting events excluding high school and collegiate sports are suspended.
- Spectators at games and events are limited to two people per student and must wear a mask.
- Restaurants and bars are required to close at 10:00 pm and can’t host private gatherings of more than 15 people. Employees must wear masks, and customers must wear masks when they are not seated at a table.
- Inpatient elective procedures will be reduced by 50 percent.
Reynolds said she would reassess these measures in a week and may take additional steps depending on hospital capacity.
“No one wants to do this. I don’t want to do this, especially as we’re coming into a holiday season that is normally filled with joy,” she said, adding that her family will not meet for Thanksgiving.
“I’m asking you tonight to work with me, to think of your family, your friends, and all of your fellow Iowans. Think of the healthcare heroes who have been taking care of us since the beginning of this pandemic,” Reynolds stated.
She pointed to a light at the end of the tunnel with a vaccine in sight.
“Until then, it’s important to step up and slow the spread, to make sure Iowans stay safe, to make sure that our hospitals can treat everyone who needs care,” Reynolds said.
She said for these mitigation efforts to work, Iowans have to cooperate because enforcement would be impossible.
“This isn’t about mandates. This isn’t about government, there isn’t enough law enforcement in the country to make sure every Iowan is wearing a mask when they should. There aren’t enough sheriffs in Iowa’s 99 counties to shut down every non-compliant bar. If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose. Businesses will close once again, more schools will be forced to go online and our health care system 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 is the right thing to do,” Reynolds said in closing. “That’s who we are as Iowans, and I know without a doubt that we will get through this together. May God continue to watch over all of us and bless this great state we call home.”