Iowa enacts health emergency plan closing bars, restaurants

Published 11:52 am Tuesday, March 17, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday ordered restaurants, bars, fitness centers, theaters and casinos to close for two weeks as part of a public health emergency plan designed to reduce the community spread of the coronavirus.

Reynolds’ proclamation prohibits social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure and sporting gatherings. It also bans events of more than 10 people including parades, festivals, conventions and fundraisers, in line with federal recommendations.

Senior citizen centers and adult day care facilities were closed.

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“These are unprecedented times and the state of Iowa will do whatever is necessary to address this public health disaster,” Reynolds said in a statement. “The actions taken today are necessary to protect the health and safety of all Iowans and are critical to mitigating the spread of the virus.”

For most people, the COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness. Most people recover from the virus.

Iowa had 23 positive cases as of Tuesday morning.

Although the closures are intended to last through March 31, the emergency declaration will last for 30 days, allowing Reynolds to mobilize public health response teams to help overburdened local medical and public health personnel, hospitals and resources.

She ordered state agencies to coordinate in developing plans to mitigate the economic impact of the closings, including potential financial support, regulatory relief, and other executive actions.

Earlier Tuesday, Iowa legislators suspended the legislative session for 30 days, passing a resolution that halts meeting until April 15.

Among hastily passed measures during the session, one waived the requirement for Iowa schools to reschedule days canceled following Reynolds’ recommendation to recess for four weeks.

Lawmakers also approved spending measures to continue the current budget year past the July 1 beginning of the next fiscal year if needed, since the Legislature had not yet approved next year’s budget.

The measure includes an additional $99 million to school districts, $525,000 for additional COVID-19 testing at a state laboratory and $91.8 million for Medicaid and related programs.

Lawmakers also gave the governor increased authority to transfer money between budget line items and tap emergency funds if needed. A small group of legislative leaders may authorize an additional $196 million to fight the virus without full legislative approval.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said the legislative break was needed so state government can focus on managing the fight against COVID-19.

House Speaker Pat Grassley said the legislation ensures that Reynolds “can effectively manage a rapidly changing situation.”

“The last thing we want to do is put the public, press, staff or legislators at risk,” Grassley said.