Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is lifting some of the state’s main COVID restrictions. As of Sunday, people will no longer be required to wear face masks or limit the size of indoor and outdoor gatherings.
The state still “strongly encourages Iowans, businesses, and organizations to take reasonable public health measures consistent with guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health,” according to a news release issued Friday. And the order “strongly encourages” people over 65 to limit activities outside the home.
The old rules required people to wear the masks inside any public space and when within six feet of someone not part of their household. Indoor gatherings had been limited to 15 people and outdoor gatherings to 30.
Reynolds put those restrictions into place last November when the pandemic was at its worst in Iowa. Daily hospitalizations for the coronavirus went over 1,500 that month and daily COVID-related death topped 840 in early December, according to the state’s COVID dashboard.
Reynolds didn’t say why she relaxed the restrictions, but since then the statistics have improved, with 122 COVID-related hospitalizations reported on Friday and 88 virus-related deaths reported Saturday. The state recently passed the 5,000 death mark.
Lina Tucker Reinders, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association, disagrees with the move. She told the Des Moines Register that it’s too early to lift restrictions.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea, to put it bluntly,” she said. “We’re not out of the pandemic yet.”
Reinders noted that the UK coronavirus variant has shown up in Iowa, which could result in increased hospitalizations and deaths.
“We have so many people wanting a vaccine, which is fantastic,” she said. “This isn’t the time to let our guards down. This is the time to just, head-down, trudge on as we have been to make sure we get everybody through it.”
The previous proclamation also required social distancing at bars, restaurants, fitness centers, and other places people gather. The new order instead encourages business owners to “take reasonable measures” to keep people healthy.
The Des Moines Register said Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association, praised the relaxed rules.
“Quite frankly, it allows us to go back to doing business at a really critical time,” she said. “We are … one day before the Super Bowl, which opens up a lot of businesses for crowds to come in and safely watch the big game.”