DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — After fiercely resisting such a move since the coronavirus outbreak in March, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds Monday evening announced a mandate that masks be worn in indoor spaces open to the public, along with new limits on public gatherings, as the state sees dramatically growing numbers of new cases each day.
Speaking to Iowans Monday, Governor Reynolds, a Republican, said that in just the past two weeks there have been 52,000 new cases of the virus in Iowa, which equals the number of new cases reported from the beginning of the pandemic from March through the middle of August.
Iowa’s rising infection rate has put it among the leading states in the nation in Covid-19 cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reported Iowa’s infection rate at 146.4 cases per 100,000 population in the past seven days, behind only North Dakota (198.9) and South Dakota (161.6).
In addition to the mask mandate, the governor issued a proclamation that, among other things, requires bars and restaurants to close at 10 p.m.; prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 15 persons and outdoor gatherings of more than 30 people; and bans all “sporting or recreational” events with the exception of high school, collegiate, and professional sports. High school sports spectators are limited to two per player and must wear masks.
Exceptions are made for certain businesses, and “spiritual and religious gatherings,” including funerals and weddings, provided reasonable public health measures are practiced.
The proclamation does not contain explicit penalties, but the governor said Monday it will require cooperation of Iowans.
“This isn’t about mandates; this isn’t about government,” she said. “There isn’t enough law enforcement in the country to make sure that every Iowan is wearing a mask when they should. There aren’t enough sheriffs in Iowa’s 99 counties to shut down every noncompliant bar. If Iowans don’t buy into this, we all lose. businesses will close again, more schools will be forced to go online, and our health care system will fail, and the cost of human lives will be high.”
Reynolds’ new mandates are in large part a response to the increasing number of hospitalizations of patients with Covid-19. Since late October the number of new daily Covid-19 hospitalizations in Iowa doubled to more than 200 a day, which she said is not sustainable.
“About 5% of Iowans with Covid-19 require hospitalization, and because of the increase we have seen over the last two weeks our health care system is being pushed to the brink,” Reynolds said. “The number of Iowans in the hospital with Covid-19 has doubled, to the point where one out of every four hospital patients has the virus.”
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported that as of Sunday night, 1,510 Covid-19 patients had been hospitalized in the previous 24 hours, with 288 in ICU beds. Iowa had a total of 2,730 hospital beds available, and 361 beds in ICU units. Iowa Hospital officials have said, however, that the issue is not so much the number of hospital beds as it is availability of medical staff.
Reynolds said hospital capacity is not just about Covid-19 patients.
“If our health care system exceeds capacity it’s not just Covid-19 we’ll be fighting,” she said. “Every Iowan who needs medical care will be put at risk.”
The Iowa Democratic Party Chair Mark Smith released a statement Monday calling the governor’s actions welcome but too little and too late for the more than 187,000 Iowans who have gotten sick from Covid-19 and the nearly 2,000 have died.
“While any action from the governor to stop the spread of the virus in our state is welcome,” Smith said, “these guidelines are long overdue and fall far short of what Iowans need to aggressively flatten the curve and relieve the stress on our overwhelmed hospitals and frontline workers.”