Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced this morning that, due to soaring numbers of hospitalizations related to COVID-19, a new wave of mitigation measures will go into effect as of midnight.
"We can’t continue to see these numbers of hospitalizations," she said. "It’s about workforce and capacity."
Reynolds announced during a press conference that 15.2% of current patients in Iowa hospitals are there primarily due to medical issues from COVID-19 infections. The state COVID-19 website lists 1,135 such patients as of 11:30 a.m.
"The overall patient volume is stressing our health care system and putting capacity at risk," she said. "Staffing them is becoming increasingly challenging. The situation has the potential to impact any Iowan who needs care for any reason."
So, Reynolds announced a suite of new restrictions "targeted to where we're seeing that spread." Namely, she said those include gatherings of family and friends — weddings, youth athletics, having friends visit one's home.
As of midnight, gatherings of 25 or more people indoors, or 100 or more outdoors are prohibited unless everyone older than 2 wears face coverings and is socially distanced.
Groups of people at bars or restaurants will be limited to eight or fewer, unless all are from the same household. Those groups also must be socially distanced from other groups.
Face coverings also will now be required in salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, massage therapy establishments, tanning parlors and "other establishments providing personal services."
"Bowling alleys, pool halls, bingo halls, arcades, indoor playgrounds and children’s play centers are now required to ensure that groups and individuals remain 6 feet apart at the establishment," states a press release.
The governor didn’t require new restrictions on bars and restaurants, and the new rules don’t apply to school districts — nearly all of which already have the option of shifting to online-only learning because of the high positivity rate throughout the state.
Asked why she didn’t impose a mask requirement for smaller gatherings, Reynolds said, “It’s a place to start, and it’s progress from where we were.”
When asked if it would be better to limit capacity in bars and restaurants, as she did in August, Reynolds said she needed to balance "the health of Iowans and their livelihoods."
Reynolds also added restrictions for youth and high school athletics events.
"I can’t have a gym packed with people and risk them not wearing masks," she said.
So, attendance at indoor sporting events will be limited to two spectators per participant.
"People are becoming relaxed because we’ve been dealing with it for so long," Reynolds said. "You start to let your guard down when you bring friends and family together. ... This is the time when personal responsibility also means personal sacrifice."
The governor also said she was optimistic that an advertising campaign beginning this week would succeed in persuading people to wear masks and take other actions to reduce the spread of the virus.
On Tuesday, all but nine of Iowa's 99 counties reported a 14-day positivity rate of 15% or more, a rate significantly above the level at which health experts recommend government measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Iowa Department of Public Health reported 4,425 new confirmed cases from 11 a.m. Monday to 11 a.m. Tuesday, the fourth consecutive day that the new case counts surpassed 4,000. There were 27 additional related deaths, raising the state total to 1,873.
Hospital officials across the state are warning that the surge in cases is unsustainable and hospitals soon could be overwhelmed with patients.
The state reported 102 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, and at least three of the state's prisons are experiencing outbreaks, with over 1,000 inmates and more than 100 state workers infected.
The 7-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks to over 48%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The state's rate is second only to South Dakota.