Clayton among 77 counties where COVID-19 restrictions will ease starting May 1

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

Clayton County is one of 77 Iowa counties that will see a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions starting Friday, May 1. Gov. Kim Reynolds made the announcement, which includes the limited reopening of some businesses and the resumption of religious services, at her Monday press conference.

“The reality is we can’t stop the virus. It will remain in our communities until a vaccine is available. Instead, we must learn to live with the COVID virus activity without letting it govern our lives,” she said. “This level of mitigation is not sustainable for the long term and has unintended consequences for Iowa families. So we must gradually shift from an aggressive mitigation strategy to focusing on managing virus activity in a way that allows us to safely and responsibly balance the health of our people and economy.” 

In the 77 counties, the proclamation permits restaurants, fitness centers, malls, libraries, race tracks and certain other retail establishments to reopen in a limited fashion with public health measures in place.

That includes limiting occupancy to 50 percent of capacity and implementing reasonable measures to ensure social distancing of employees and patrons, increased hygiene practices and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

At restaurants, no group of customers seated together can be larger than six people. The restaurant must also ensure at least six feet of physical distance between each group or individual dining alone. No self service of food or beverages, including buffets or salad bars, will be allowed.

For fitness centers, establishments must ensure all equipment, such as treadmills, bikes, weight machines, benches and power racks, are spaced at least six feet apart, or take other appropriate measures to ensure that more closely spaced equipment is not used. Any group activities or classes must be limited to 10 or fewer people and all people participating must maintain a distance of six feet apart at all times. 

The governor’s proclamation does not re-open bars, theaters, casinos and gaming facilities, social and fraternal clubs, senior citizen centers, amusement parks, bowling alleys, arcades, museums, zoos, skate parks, playgrounds, campgrounds, swimming pools, salons and barber shops, medical spas, massage therapy establishments, tanning facilities, tattoo establishments or door-to-door sales. Those closures are all extended until May 15.

Another large part of the proclamation lifts the restriction on religious and spiritual gatherings as long as churches and other gathering hosts implement reasonable public health measures. However, any other social, community, recreational, leisure and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people will continue to be prohibited at all locations and venues through May 15.

The loosening of restrictions in 77 counties is due to low, declining or stable numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in those areas, Reynolds noted.

“Iowa has specific locations where virus activity is widespread, other locations where it’s sporadic and some where there’s none at all,” she said. “Knowing this, we can take a targeted approach to loosening restrictions.”

As of Monday, Clayton County had 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of six cases from last week, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Six of those cases have recovered, and one person has died. To date, 160 people have been tested.

The state of Iowa has also seen a steady increase in positive cases over the past week. On Monday, 349 additional positives were reported, for a total of 5,868 cases.  An additional nine deaths were also reported, for a total of 127. 

Reynolds said the larger number of confirmed cases is due, in large part, to increased testing.

Among the 22 counties where full restrictions remain in place through May 15—and where there’s been more widespread COVID-19 cases—are three Clayton County neighbors, Allamakee, Dubuque and Fayette counties. Dubuque County now has 87 confirmed cases and two deaths, and Allamakee County has 72 cases and three deaths. Fayette County has 16 cases.

When proposed with a situation where residents from restricted counties may flock to areas that have somewhat re-opened, Reynolds said Iowans “have to be responsible.” If an individual is at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, may have been exposed or is sick, they are asked to stay home.

“People still have to do their part,” she reminded.

Even with the loosening of restrictions in Clayton County, the county’s emergency management said people should continue to practice thorough hand washing and elevated personal hygiene measures, while also maintaining social distancing guidelines. 

“The guidance to lift some restrictions is based heavily on COVID-19 impacts per county, and these county-by-county numbers are being reevaluated on a regular basis,” Clayton County Emergency Management said in a Facebook post. “That means this ‘lift of restrictions’ may be subject to change.”

“If we do see an uptick,” said Reynolds, “then we may have to look at dialing things back.”

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