As Iowa hospitals are seeing a substantial increase in coronavirus patients, the state's Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has reversed course on her longtime opposition to a statewide mask mandate and enacting a limited version of one on Monday.
“If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose," she said during a rare televised address Monday. “Businesses will close once again. More schools will be forced to go online. 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.”
She added that her new restrictions weren’t “about mandates” or government, noting there wasn’t enough law enforcement in the country to enforce the mask requirements or business restrictions.
Starting Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 12:01 a.m., all Iowans aged 2 years or older must wear masks when in indoor public spaces. The mask mandate applies only when people are within six feet of others who are not members of their households for 15 minutes.
Indoor gatherings are limited to 15 people while outdoor gatherings are limited to 30 people. Gatherings where the restrictions apply include wedding receptions, family gatherings, conventions, and other nonessential gatherings but do not apply to gatherings that occur during the "ordinary course of business or government."
Youth and adult group sports and activities are prohibited except for high schools, colleges, and professional sports. High School sports and extracurriculars are limited to two spectators permitted per athlete, performer or competitor. The spectators must wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of distance from other people. Students are permitted to be closer than six feet and are not required to wear masks.
In addition, restaurants and bars, bowling alleys, pool halls, bingo halls, arcades, indoor playgrounds and children’s play centers are closed to in-person services starting at 10 p.m.
Both masks and six feet of distancing between groups are required when not seated. Groups are limited to eight people unless it is a larger group from the same household. Restaurant and bar customers must be seated when eating or drinking and limit congregating. No bar seating will be available.
Fitness centers, health clubs, health spas, gyms are also prohibited from group fitness activities while casinos and gaming facilities must require patrons to wear masks except when seated to eat or drink.
Hospitals are required under the order to reduce their in-patient, nonessential surgeries to a level that uses at least 50% fewer beds than it did on average during September 2020.
The new restrictions will remain in effect until Thursday, Dec. 10 at 11:59 p.m.
The speech and order marks a change of tone and policy for Reynolds, who weeks ago was joining President Donald Trump and other Republicans at crowded rallies where many people did not wear masks. The governor said the outcome of the election in which Republicans dominated state races validated her small government approach.
For months, Reynolds rejected the consensus of public health experts and refused to enact a statewide mask mandate, claiming one would be ineffective. But she said the rapidly rising number of hospitalized patients was not sustainable and changed her thinking.
One in every 100 state residents received a COVID-19 diagnosis in the week that ended Sunday, even as others reported delays in getting tests or were awaiting results. That was the third-worst diagnosis rate in the nation, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
A record 1,510 people infected with COVID-19 were hospitalized statewide, after another surge of new patients was reported Monday evening. The number hospitalized doubled in two weeks and was expected to increase further in coming days after a surge of infections. It included 130 people fighting for their lives on ventilators.
According to the latest data from the state, there have been more than 188,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Iowa since the pandemic began and 1,991 related deaths. On Tuesday, Iowa is expected to hit the grim milestone of 2,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report