Mask mandates, restrictions on social gatherings are in effect


Gov. Kim Reynolds passed a bill banning mask mandates in the state of Iowa.

Michael Craighton

New coronavirus mitigation restrictions go into effect at midnight Monday, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in a rare prime-time televised address.

The restrictions include prohibitions of indoor gatherings of more than 15 people, outdoor gatherings of more than 30 people, as well as a mask mandate whenever an individual is inside a facility open to the public when unable to maintain social distancing for more than 15 minutes. The ban includes weddings, funerals and other family and social gatherings.

Additional measures include the suspension of all sporting and leisure activities beyond high school, collegiate and professional sports. Prohibited activities include youth and group sports, group swimming lessons, swim teams, dancing and gymnastics.

As with the limited mask mandate implemented last week, spiritual gatherings and religious services are exempted from these restrictions.

Bars and restaurants must also close at 10 p.m. and may not reopen until 6 a.m. the following day.

“These changes won’t be easy or popular, but they’re necessary if we want to keep our businesses open, our kids in school and our health care system stable,” Reynolds said.

The new measures come as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Iowa, with the state likely to break 2,000 deaths this week and more than 1,400 Iowans hospitalized. As new cases have regularly begun topping 4,000 per day, hospitals are overwhelmed and health care workers are increasingly stretched to their breaking point.

Reynolds attributed the current rise in cases to complacency after many Iowans who contracted COVID-19 experienced relatively mild symptoms.

“I’m afraid that these mild cases have created a mindset where Iowans have become complacent,” Reynolds said. “Because of the increase we’ve seen over the last two weeks, our health care system is being pushed to the brink.”

The measures will be reassessed in a week, and additional measures may be put in place if new case numbers and hospitalizations do not decrease.

Reynolds urged Iowans to think of their friends and family members, as well as the “health care heroes” who have been working on the front line.

The remarks were a notable break from Reynolds’ regular press conferences, which are held at 11 a.m. on weekdays, and some have noted this is the first time a sitting Iowa governor has addressed the public on television during primetime.

With colder weather and the holiday season approaching, Reynolds last week implemented a limited mask mandate, having spent the months since the emergence of the pandemic decrying mask mandates as unenforceable and responded to county and municipal ordinances by saying they were beyond those local governments’ authority.

In the same week, the Iowa State Board of Health voted 7-2 to recommend a statewide mask mandate, while Meghan Schaeffer, an epidemiologist consulting on the pandemic response, told leaders in a briefing that the state could see daily new case totals break 10,000 without drastic changes.

“This isn’t about mandates, this isn’t about government,” Reynolds said. “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 lives will be high.”