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Governor may lift bar closure order next week

Governor may lift bar closure order next week

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DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds indicated Friday she may take early action next week to lift her order that closed all bars, taverns, breweries and nightclubs in six counties due to spikes in coronavirus cases.

The governor last month invoked a new public health emergency proclamation that closed businesses serving alcohol in Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk and Story counties until at least Sept. 20.

Restaurants in those counties that serve alcohol were allowed to remain open but had to stop serving alcoholic beverages after 10 p.m.

Reynolds said the action was required to slow the spread of COVID-19 — especially among people in the 19- to 24-year-old age range.

“It’s not an easy decision to make, and it’s not one that I wanted to make,” the governor said during a radio interview Friday.

But she said the move was necessary to address behavior that was starting to drive community spread of COVID-19 — most notably in college towns where the resumption of fall semester classes was accompanied by crowds of students crowding into bars with little regard for masks or social distancing.

Earlier this week Reynolds said counties with higher COVID-19 cases had made progress in controlling the viral spread but that she planned to continue monitoring the trends before lifting the closures in the six counties.

“I’m hoping next week the data, the trend, is moving in the right direction, and we monitor that every single day,” the governor said Friday. “So, I’m hoping by the beginning of next week at least we’ll have some counties and, hopefully, most of them, that we’ll be able to move off. And then really from there forward, try to target our efforts on the bad actors.”

Reynolds said she “stood up” a state program last week offering one-time $10,000 grants to eligible bars and taverns negatively impacted by her closure order.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority is overseeing the grants as part of the Iowa Small Business Relief Grant Program, with the estimated cost at $5 million. The application window began Thursday.

The governor said the stopgap funding was intended to “ease” the closure order’s impact “until we can get them back open, and I’m hoping that we can do that next week.”

A group of bar owners in Polk and Dallas counties sued Reynolds, arguing the governor was unfairly targeting their industry and had given them just a few hours’ notice to shut down, adding to the financial strain their businesses suffered from earlier closures ordered when the pandemic took hold in Iowa this spring.

A district court judge declined to issue a temporary injunction that would have allowed the bars to reopen, but he did allow the business owners to go to trial and argue that the governor’s actions are unconstitutional.

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