Story County health official is disappointed by Gov. Reynolds’ relaxing COVID-19 restrictions for the state of Iowa


Iowa State will be holding students accountable for not following the student code of conduct and/or violating COVID-19 health orders, such as wearing masks and not maintaining social distance.

Michael Craighton

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect comments provided by the governor’s office.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will be lifting mask mandates, social distancing requirements and restrictions on gatherings and businesses effective at 12:01 a.m. Sunday. The changes were announced Friday afternoon in Reynolds’ latest emergency proclamation and were met with immediate condemnation by public health experts and some lawmakers.

“I’m horribly disappointed by her deciding this,” said John Paschen, chair of the Story County Board of Health. 

Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat representing Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, called the changes “short-sighted, ill-conceived, and dangerous” in a statement.

The eased restrictions will take effect just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, enabling larger gatherings both privately and at bars and restaurants to watch the championship football game. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidelines continuing to discourage large, in-person gatherings to watch the game and encourage safety measures like masks and social distancing if engaging in small gatherings.

A press release from the governor’s office did not provide a rationale for the timing of the change or the easing of restrictions more broadly.

When asked for comment regarding the timing of the proclamation with relation to potential Super Bowl events, Pat Garrett, the governor’s communications director, would not directly address the concerns of public health experts.

The governor’s response is about balancing the lives and livelihoods of Iowans,” Garrett said in an email. “The governor has always said she will dial up and dial down mitigation efforts in order to combat the spread of the virus and protect hospital resources. As we note in the proclamation, Iowans should continue to practice public health measures.” 

While some bar and restaurant owners, along with some members of the public, will likely be glad for lifted mandates, others have expressed that they will continue to include limitations and restrictions in their establishments.

The Blazing Saddle, a bar in Des Moines’ East Village, said in a Facebook post that the bar would continue to require masks when patrons are not actively drinking. 

Many public health experts have expressed concern that Super Bowl parties could become superspreader events, a danger that is likely to be exacerbated by Reynolds’ eased restrictions.

“I’m afraid…if people take her lead as saying that it’s OK to do whatever you want,” Paschen said, “Super Bowl parties could turn into COVID-spreading parties.”

While the restrictions come during a decline in the rate of spread of COVID-19, Paschen said it shouldn’t be interpreted as a reason to let down our guard.

“We’d been doing so well, we’d been getting this under control…we’re getting vaccinated just as fast as we can,” Paschen said. “Nobody, nobody, in the medical field is saying to lighten up on mitigation measures.”

In addition to the proclamation’s timing in proximity to the Super Bowl, it also comes as new, more infectious variations of the virus have begun appearing in Iowa, including a variety first detected in the UK known by the designation B.1.1.7.

“With these new strains, we’re especially unsure of the effects,” Paschen said. “We need to keep our guard up, and this is not helping.”