New governor’s proclamation to ease COVID restrictions

Friday, February 5, 2021

UPDATE Feb. 8, 2021: This story has been updated to include comments from both the Dickinson County and Clay County Board of Health Chairs. Background information on local mask policies has also been added.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a new health disaster proclamation Friday, but this one actually eased public health measures related to COVID-19 as of Sunday, Feb. 7. The governor’s office said the proclamation also continues “critical regulatory relief to those on the frontlines of COVID19 recovery” for another 30 days.

“The proclamation strongly encourages Iowans, businesses and organizations to take reasonable public health measures consistent with guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health,” the governor’s announcement said.

Reynolds previously established limits on Iowa businesses — particularly bars and restaurants — limiting when they could be open for dine-in service and capping their occupancy to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. Though previous versions set specific limits on group gatherings, and even required masks in certain buildings, Friday’s proclamation encourages Iowans to limit their in-person interactions and all businesses open for in-person service to take “reasonable measures under the circumstances of each establishment to ensure the health of employees, patrons and members of the public.”

The proclamation specified the new language is not to be taken as grounds for closing a business or taking other enforcement action.

Zach Borus, chair of the Dickinson County Board of Health and a physician at Lakes Regional Healthcare, said local health providers are still supportive of previous mitigation efforts aimed at minimizing the potential spread of the virus.

"While we are pleased that case numbers and hospitalization rates are falling across the state — thanks, in part, to the mitigation measures put in place in November — Lakes Regional, Avera and Dickinson County Board of Health all remain steadfast in our support for mask mandates and other public policies that limit the spread of COVID-19," Borus said. "We at LRH and DCPH would support a local masking/distancing ordinance if the state is no longer supportive of a more widespread mitigation ordinance."

Borus said masks and social distancing in public continue to be important in keeping viral activity under control while state vaccine supplies are limited.

"In short, masks and distancing measures work, and have been the key tools in bringing our infection and hospitalization rates down from their peak in November/December," Borus said.

Dickinson County's positivity rate was reported at 7.1 percent as of Friday — within less than 2 percent of some of the county's lowest recorded rates. The state of Iowa showed an 8.9-percent rate as of Monday. Dickinson County hit a peak at 22 percent in mid-November and largely remained in the double digits until this month.

"While not as extreme as in December, local positivity rate is still quite high for increased community spread, and we have new threats coming," Borus said. "Much more infectious variants of the virus have already been found in Iowa, and are expected to further spread in the coming weeks, making another spike possible without ongoing vigilance."

The Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed Feb. 1 at least three cases of what has been dubbed the U.K. variant of the virus had been reported in Iowa — two cases in Johnson County and a third in Bremer County. The variant is believed to spread more easily, according to a statement from IDPH, but current COVID-19 vaccines are considered effective against it.

The Dickinson County Board of Supervisors chose to stop just short of a local mandate in December, when the board voted to adopt a proclamation which encouraged the public to adhere to mitigation strategies in a previous proclamation from Gov. Reynolds. Assistant Dickinson County Attorney Lonnie Saunders said at the time that business owners maintain the right to require customers to obey mitigation efforts while inside a store, office or other business setting. On the same day, across the county line, the Clay County Board of Supervisors passed a county-level mask policy on a split vote. The Clay County ordinance requires the public to wear face coverings inside businesses and while in public if they are unable to remain at least 6 feet from one another — though situational exceptions were outlined.

Spencer Hospital said in a social media post Saturday the Clay County regulation would remain in effect even after the governor's latest proclamation went into effect Sunday morning.

“The Clay County Board of Health just met Thursday and reviewed the COVID-19 numbers in our community," Janessa Mechler, Clay County Board of Health chair, said. "We were encouraged to see the decrease in cases — we felt this showed our increase in masking is helping."

Dr. Mechler said the county policy included a sunset clause — it will be lifted once Clay County's rolling, two-week rate of positive tests is less than 5 percent over 14 days. Clay County's rate was at 8 percent as of Mechler's statement on Saturday.

Dickinson County recorded a single COVID-19 related death in the past week, bringing the local total to 39 — statewide, more than 5,000 of nearly 325,000 positive cases have resulted in death. Local health officials said in Friday's report more than 1,300 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Dickinson County so far, and 443 have completed their two-does regiment of the vaccine. A total of about 1,927 cases of the respiratory virus have been confirmed locally since March. Only about 35 were believed to still be active, according to the report.

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  • I would like to hear local reaction, especially from bars and restaurants that will be affected.

    -- Posted by jonathan.reed on Sun, Feb 7, 2021, at 3:20 PM
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