Gov. Kim Reynolds announces stronger mask requirements nine months into pandemic

With hospitalizations surging, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the new measures are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.


Katina Zentz

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during the Condition of the State address at the Iowa State Capitol on Tuesday, January 14, 2020.

Julia Shanahan, Politics Editor

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced stronger masking requirements among other COVID-19 mitigation measures on Monday in an effort to curb the dramatic spike in hospitalizations.

“These measures are targeted toward activities and environments where they have the potential to make a significant impact in a relatively short amount of time,” Reynolds said in an address to Iowans. “That doesn’t mean that these changes will be easy or popular.”

The proclamation requires people to wear masks inside public spaces, including government buildings, if people are unable to social distance for longer than 15 minutes. The proclamation also limits indoor gatherings to 15 people and outdoor gatherings to 30, which includes family gatherings, weddings, funeral receptions, and conventions.

The proclamation does not restrict gatherings in workplaces that are pertinent to daily operations.

These mandates will go into effect Nov. 17 at midnight.

Reynolds’ new masking policies do not go as far as other states, like Illinois and North Dakota, which require people to wear a mask whenever they are in a public space, both indoors and outdoors.

Reynolds said that one in every four hospital patients has COVID-19. She said hospitalizations are topping 200 people a day, adding that this will not be sustainable in the long term.

RELATED: With cases rising, University of Iowa officials warn Iowa hospitals will soon be overwhelmed

“If our health-care system exceeds capacity, it’s not just COVID-19 we’ll be fighting,” she said. “Every Iowan who needs medical care will be put at risk.”

Public-health experts and some political leaders in Iowa have been calling on Reynolds to implement a statewide mask mandate since the spring. Rather than implementing these measures early on, Reynolds had called on Iowans to make responsible choices.

Some cities in Iowa, such as Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, have ranked among the top 10 COVID-19 hotspots in the country. Reynolds shut down businesses in March and began reopening the state in May, leaving masking policies up to business owners and local governments.

Reynolds’ move to require masks in indoor spaces comes less than two weeks before Thanksgiving, and Reynolds said her children and grandchildren will not be gathering inside her home this year.

“It’s to keep them safe, and it’s to keep you safe,” she said.

Bars and restaurants 

Bars and restaurants are required to close at 10 p.m. and are prohibited from hosting private gatherings of more than 15 people.

Employees who are in direct contact with customers are required to wear masks, and customers are required to wear masks when they are not seated at their table.

These restrictions also apply to bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, bingo halls, and indoor playgrounds.

In late August, Reynolds closed bars in Johnson and Story counties, where the University of Iowa and Iowa State University are located, when cases spiked as students returned to campus. Reynolds reopened bars and restaurants in these counties on Oct. 5, requiring the businesses to enforce health precautions and social distancing guidelines.

Sporting events and activities

All organized youth and adult sporting activities and events are cancelled, which according to the proclamation, includes basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, dance, and group fitness classes at gyms.

High school and collegiate sporting events are not prohibited, but spectators are limited to two people per student and attendees must wear masks.