Public Health Emergency extended into June as more businesses open with restrictions

By: 
Travis Fischer

More businesses were opened and regulations lifted last week as Governor Kim Reynolds extended the Public Health Emergency Declaration concerning the COVID-19 outbreak into June.

As of June 1st, outdoor performances, casinos, bowling alleys, amusement parks, skating rinks, skate parks, and outdoor playgrounds may be reopened. The proclamation also lifts the restriction on social gatherings of more than ten people.

As with many of the other re-opened businesses, there are stipulations attached to the reopening of these recreational businesses. Like most public venues, they will be limited to 50% of their capacity and must maintain six feet of social distancing between attending parties.

Restaurants, bars, and similar establishments can expand their tables as well. While the capacity limit remains at 50% the normal seating capacity, group sizes are now limited to parties of 10, rather than six. Live performances are also allowed again, so long as social distancing guidelines are met. Social distancing of six feet must still be maintained between individuals or groups, and self-service is still prohibited. High school sports are also included in the proclamation, allowing youth athletic seasons to move forward with the same restrictions.

"Lifting this restriction means extended family and friends can gather together, but that privilege comes with responsibility in ensuring you're doing the right thing to protect your health and the health of the people you care about," said Reynolds.

Most of the previous restrictions on businesses will be extended through the duration of the proclamation, which lasts until June 25.

And while most of the regulatory relief the governor has implemented will stay in place through June, Reynolds has lifted the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, again allowing landlords to remove delinquent tenants from their properties.

"I know that some Iowans who have experienced a reduction in income due to COVID-19 may have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage payments in the months to come," said Reynolds. "To provide continuous relief to those families I will be allocating funding through the states allocation of the federal CARES Act funds for the creation of a COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program."

This program will be available to Iowans facing eviction that have seen a loss of income due to COVID-19. Those that qualify, based on their normal income and the effect that the pandemic has had on it, will receive financial assistance to help cover owed rent or mortgage payments to be paid directly to the property holder.

For those that don't qualify, legal resources are also being made available to help guide Iowans facing eviction through that process. For farmers affected by the economic effects of the pandemic, two federal programs totaling $16 billion are getting ready to roll out. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program will provide direct financial assistance to producers who have suffered a 5% or greater price decline between January 15 and April 15.

"Producers of all eligible commodities will be able to apply through their local FSA office," said Reynolds.

At the state level, $24 million program will assist pork producers that have been forced to euthanize their animals as a result of the disruption in the meat production industry. Funding will be released in three waves to qualifying producers to compensate some of the cost of disposing their livestock.

As of Sunday, May 31, there have been 19,552 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, increasing the 17,461 total from the week prior by 12%. The 2,091 new cases reported since the previous Sunday indicates a drop in the spread, which has surpassed 2,700 new cases per week for the last three weeks.

In total, approximately 981 elderly (age 80+), 2,747 older adults (61-80), 6,867 middle aged adults (41-60), 8,438 young adults (18-40), and 589 children have tested positive for the disease. Current testing shows that roughly 64% of positive cases result in symptoms while 11% of those testing positive have been asymptomatic.

The death rate also started to dip last week, with 83 additional deaths reported last week, bringing the total to 534. Of the fatal cases, approximately 251 have been elderly, 214 have been older adults, 53 have been middle aged, and 11 have been young adults.

Of the deaths attributed to COVID-19, 250 are linked to outbreaks in long term care facilities. The state has reported 39 outbreaks in long term care facilities resulting in 1,563 current positive cases. However, the timeliness of the state's reporting on long term care outbreaks has come into question. The Des Moines Register reported this week that Ramsey Village, a Des Moines nursing home, reported four confirmed cases among residents on May 8 but was not listed on the state information website until 20 days later, after the Register asked about the omission.

Similar concerns about outbreaks in major manufacturing facilities have also come to light. The state's policy has been to make it public when an outbreak at a facility affects at least 10% of their workforce. However, the state has made it unclear as to whether or not they will be proactively announcing these outbreaks or instead waiting for reporters to ask about them during Governor's regular press conferences.

For communities that suspect an outbreak in the area, the state is recommending staying in contact with local resources for information.

"While I know that there is a high level of interest in IDPH announcing outbreaks at businesses, the most important thing for Iowans to know is how to take care of yourself and your health," said Sarah Reisetter, Deputy Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The message from the state officials is clear that the reopening of businesses should not be taken as a sign that the threat of the virus is past, but rather that both Iowa business owners and customers are being expected to operate safely on their own volition.

"While businesses are being allowed to open, they are also being required to do so in a responsible way that promotes social distancing within the establishments and venues," said Reisetter. "Please pay attention to and follow the restrictions that are in place when you visit these establishments to keep yourself and others as safe as possible."

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