Johnson County bars ordered to close after increase in COVID-19 cases amongst young adults

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that bars will be required to close in six Iowa counties where case counts are high, including counties home to Iowa’s major universities.


Jeff Sigmund

The Airliner, 22 S Clinton St. As seen on Aug 27, 2020

Rylee Wilson, News Editor

Bars in six Iowa counties, including Johnson County, were required to close Thursday, after a sharp increase in COVID-19 among 19-24 year-olds.

In a Thursday press conference, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said young adults, especially those on college campuses, are driving much of the spread of COVID-19.

“Much of the spread that we’re seeing in Iowa continues to be tied back to young adults — even a smaller subset of the age 19-24. The data is compelling,” Reynold said. “When you look at the data in the last two weeks, 23 percent of all positive cases were among ages 19 to 24.”

Bars, taverns, breweries and nightclubs were required to close to close by 5 p.m. Thursday in Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Story counties. Restaurants that serve alcohol will be allowed to remain open, but must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. An establishment can be considered a restaurant if less than half its gross proceeds go toward alcohol. The proclamation is set to last until Sept. 20 at 11:59 p.m.

Reynolds said 69 percent of new cases in Johnson County over the past week have been among 19 to 24-year-olds.
“An increase in community spread, regardless of how it occurs, puts older adults and people with underlying health conditions at greater risk,” Reynolds said. “It is imperative we take immediate steps to slow the spread among young adults in our state.”

Reynolds said Iowans hosting social gatherings of more than 10 people must ensure those attending maintain 10 feet of social distancing, and that her proclamation would encourage every Iowan over the age of 2 to wear a face covering.

Reynolds’ announcement comes after University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld sent a letter to Iowa City businesses asking them to comply with a previous proclamation requiring patrons in bars to keep six feet of distance, and that they should be seated rather than congregating.

Reynolds said she spoke with the presidents of Iowa’s three regent universities on Wednesday.

UI President Bruce Harreld released a statement Thursday afternoon commending Reynolds’ decision.

“I would like to thank Governor Kim Reynolds for her recent action regarding bars and gatherings larger than 10 people,” Harreld said in the statement. “ Without those actions I was very concerned about the rise in cases and the upcoming weekend.”

The UI also released stricter enforcement guidelines for off-campus behavior. In a mass email to students, the UI wrote that all student engagement efforts and registered student organization activities will be moved to a virtual format beginning immediately.

According to the email, participation in any activity at an off-campus location that includes ten or more people and doesn’t follow the governor’s social-distancing requirements would be a violation of the Code of Student Life.

“These gatherings, when reported to the university, may result in disciplinary action consistent with the risky nature of the behavior,” the email stated.

Dave Moore, the Chief Operations Officer of Iowa City’s Big Grove Brewery, said the restaurant and brewery sits above the 50 percent revenue requirement, so will be allowed to stay open.

“We felt pretty confident right away that it wasn’t going to affect us. Now, it’s going to affect our customers — we’ve got plenty of customers we sell beer to,” he said.

Big Grove will not be able to sell alcohol after 10:00 p.m., but Moore said the brewery does not see much of a late night crowd.

“We are aware that there are people who are not adhering to the proclamation. I think there is an avenue for that, to find those bad actors,” Moore said. “We don’t want to be shut down. If everything keeps going the way it is, there could be another shutdown.”

For some members of the Iowa City community, just closing the bars isn’t enough. City Councilor Janice Weiner called for the UI to move completely online on Twitter on Thursday. In an interview with The Daily Iowan, she said more action needs to be taken right now than just closing the bars in Iowa City.

“There’s a reason our numbers are so high,” she said. “We needed to be able to act earlier than we did. We needed to start weeks ago, which state leadership was not willing to do… It seems to me, based on the [COVID-19] numbers, that preventing the social interaction at bars is not going to be enough at this point.”

Eleanor Hildebrandt contributed to this article.