Gov. Reynolds allows reopening of restaurants, other businesses in all 99 counties; expands order to salons, barbers and more statewide
During Gov. Kim Reynolds' May 13, 2020, news conference restrictions first made for only 22 counties are lifted for all Iowa counties. Des Moines Register
At J Michaels Salon in Des Moines, everything is in place to open the doors to customers for the first time in eight weeks.
Hand sanitizer is at each entrance, and every employee has a mask. A curbside check-in will keep customers waiting for their appointments outside. And the essential oils, used to give guests complimentary head and neck massages before their haircuts or color, have been put away for the time being to avoid unnecessary contact.
Those and a list of other new precautions salon owner Michelle Ryan has put in place are intended to keep her employees and customers safe. They're also in compliance with social-distancing and sanitary guidelines required by the Iowa Department of Public Health and Gov. Kim Reynolds, who announced Wednesday that businesses still closed or subject to coronavirus-related restrictions may reopen Friday, with some limitations.
"This has been in the making for the last two months," said Ryan, who will open her doors at 2105 Ingersoll Ave. to a schedule of appointments already booked through the end of June.
Reynolds’ new order takes effect at 5 a.m. Friday, lifting closures of barbershops, tattoo parlors, massage therapists and salons — including manicurists and aestheticians — statewide.
It also extends partial reopenings of restaurants, libraries and fitness centers to the entire state. Reynolds gradually introduced easing of restrictions on May 1 in 77 counties where virus activity was minimal or declining, but not in the 22 harder-hit counties, including Polk, Dallas and Jasper in the Des Moines metro.
Bars, casinos and theaters must remain closed until May 27, according to the governor's order.
All businesses that can begin serving the public will be allowed to operate only at 50% of their normal capacity, based on fire code, and must adhere to social distancing and sanitary guidelines.
The new order came on the same day the Iowa Department of Public Health announced Iowa had surpassed 13,000 cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, and amid news that Polk County was listed last week among the 10 counties in the United States where the coronavirus was spreading fastest.
As of Wednesday, Polk County had 2,551 cases of COVID-19 — more than any other in the state — followed by Sioux City's Woodbury County, with 2,054 cases.
Reynolds, at her daily news conference Wednesday, attributed the rise in confirmed cases in the Des Moines and Sioux City areas to targeted testing, which she said is “driving positive case numbers up in the short term.”
But, she said, Iowa hospitals are equipped to handle a “surge” of patients, with available beds and ventilators. According to coronavirus.iowa.gov, the state has 77% of its ICU beds and 76% of its ventilators available.
“We want to continue to just encourage those that are most vulnerable to continue to stay home and really limit their trips to essential trips,” Reynolds said. “And, I believe, if we all do that, and the thoughtful manner that I see in our businesses really start to reopen, we'll be OK, and we'll be able to manage and contain virus spread moving forward.”
Despite the eased restrictions, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie urged residents to remain at home and limit activities that put them in contact with other people. He asked for diligence and discipline to decrease the spread of the coronavirus in Iowa’s capital city.
“We know these two things about COVID-19 in Iowa — the most cases are in Polk County, and we are still uncertain when those numbers might peak,” he said in a statement. “… All of us want to return to our normal lives as quickly as possible, but we must be patient.”
Reynolds: Iowa has moved to a recovery phase
The governor’s new order is the latest in a series of steps she has taken over the past two weeks to gradually reopen the state and boost its economy. Since the coronavirus was first detected in Iowa on March 8, the state has focused on stabilizing health care resources, she said.
Now, Iowa has moved to the recovery phase, when it will restart the economy in “a stable, safe and responsible way,” Reynolds said.
"That's why we're doing it in a phased approach. That's why we didn't just rip the Band-Aid off or flip a light switch,” Reynolds said. “We're being very methodical in the way that we move forward. ... "
For reopening businesses, the Iowa Department of Public Health is requiring:
- Frequent cleaning of shared spaces.
- Handwashing and hand sanitizing supplies to be readily available.
- Posting of visual reminders of 6-foot social-distancing requirements.
- Allowing or mandating masks, particularly if employees and customers can’t stay 6 feet apart.
- Appropriate leave policies that allow employees to stay home if they are sick.
- Asking customers not to enter if they have been in close contact with anyone in the past 14 days with a confirmed case of coronavirus.
The state is encouraging Iowans with underlying health conditions and those over 65 “to continue to stay home as much as possible” and wear a face covering if they do leave the house, said Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.
People who have had close contact with someone who is confirmed to have the coronavirus also need to continue to self-isolate for 14 days, she said.
"Every Iowan needs to do what's best for them, and that will differ depending on everyone's unique circumstances," Reisetter said.
Reynolds herself is on "modified self-quarantine" after a staffer for Vice President Mike Pence tested positive for the coronavirus two days after the governor visited Pence and President Donald Trump at the White House. Pence's May 8 trip to Iowa was delayed for an hour while the aide and people who had come in contact with her left Air Force 2.
The governor said her team will continue to monitor data, do strategic, “aggressive” testing in identified hot spots and ask Iowans who do test positive to self-isolate to “really minimize the virus spread and the scope of what we're seeing.”
Reynolds has said she will consider closing businesses if needed, but she did not answer a question Wednesday about whether there is a specific threshold for increasing restrictions to mitigate a resurgence.
Not everyone is on board with the governor’s push to reopen. University of Iowa epidemiologist Dr. Eli Perencevich tweeted that he still had concerns about the spread of the virus in the state, writing that “even though the state is open, that doesn’t mean it’s safe,” particularly without widespread testing in place. He said Iowa’s statewide transmission of COVID-19 is not declining.
And Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a progressive activist organization that promotes workers' rights, condemned Reynolds' order.
“Forty-one Iowans lost their lives in the last three days and Iowa’s curve keeps steepening the more restrictions are lifted,” Tom Mohan of Sioux City, Iowa CCI’s board president, said in a statement. “Governor Reynolds cannot wash her hands of the pain and suffering her policies cause just because the ICU beds and ventilators aren’t full yet. We urge the governor to start putting human life before corporate greed and reverse course now before more people get sick and die.”
Des Moines mainstays: One ready, another isn't
Just as when restrictions were eased at retail stores and malls over the last two weeks, business owners in the Des Moines metro affected by Reynolds' new order vary on whether they will reopen right away or take more time before welcoming back the public.
The six metro Jethro’s BBQ locations will reopen Friday morning, while Jethro’s Steak ‘n Chop in Ames will remain closed until students and professors return to the Iowa State University campus.
At the reopening locations, tables have been spread out to comply with Reynolds’ order, said owner Bruce Gerleman. The restaurants also will offer more single-use items, like single-serving condiment packets and disposable menus, to minimize the number of shared items.
“My staff is ready to reopen. They’re tired of unemployment, they’re tired of sitting at home,” Gerleman said.
He said he’s brought back about 600 members of his staff. Another 100 or so will be rehired depending on demand because, he said, he’s not sure exactly what business will look like in the coming days and weeks.
“I think about 50% of the people out there are scared to death to come out. They think it’s too early,” he said. “The other 50% of the people can’t wait to come out.”
Jethro’s will continue to offer to-go meals, as permitted during the closure, in addition to offering dine-in service. That hasn’t necessarily been profitable, but it’s been successful enough to warrant investing in designated to-go areas for several of his locations to optimize the pick-up process, he said.
“I think to-go is the new normal,” Gerleman said.
Others, like Scenic Route Bakery in the East Village, have decided to stick with just carryout and delivery. Scenic Route is declining to put its tables back out for customers.
“We want to have seating back, but I’m going to give it a little more time to keep our staff and our customers safe,” said owner Katy Nelson.
At salons, privacy panels for a sense of space
Despite the governor’s decision to ease restrictions, East Village Spa in Des Moines won’t open Friday or even next week. Owner Cassie Samson said her business won’t start back up until this summer, at the earliest.
It will be “impossible” for her staff to maintain social distancing when they administer massages, waxes, manicures and pedicures to clients, even on a limited basis, she said.
“I don't feel like this is the right time to safely reopen,” Samson said.
East Village Spa also has had trouble securing the necessary cleaning and disinfecting supplies, which are on backorder. And she’s only been able to bring back a portion of her staff under a smaller-than-expected federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.
“It’s not as easy as flipping a switch and going back,” she said.
For Ryan, owner of J Michaels Salon, preparing to reopen has been on her mind since the day she closed, on March 19. She believes she can keep her 15 stylists safe by removing chairs from the waiting room and eliminating double-booking of clients.
“We can’t come back hustling like we used to hustle,” Ryan said. “We have to just find our new normal, and so I think we just need to ease into this just like everybody else.”
The preparation for reopening wasn’t just focused on her salon. She and her husband also own DSM Designs, a salon furniture company, that has sold 400 “privacy panels” to salons nationwide. The panels, which are on wheels, are placed between salon chairs and hair-washing stations to create a sense of space between clients, Ryan said. They’re also in place at her Ingersoll Avenue salon.
“In our industry, it’s completely impossible to be 6 feet apart from anybody, especially between the stylist and the guest, and the privacy panels just create that ease and comfort,” she said.
More on coronavirus in Iowa:
- Polk County among 10 in U.S. where coronavirus has spread fastest
- Coronavirus in Iowa: Updated COVID-19 maps and charts track cases and data in Iowa and across the U.S.
- Eastern Iowa gym owner cited for defying Reynolds' order limiting gyms to 1 customer at a time, by appointment
Register reporters Katie Akin, Ian Richardson and Austin Cannon contributed to this report.
Nick Coltrain can be reached at email@example.com or at 515-284-8361. Kim Norvell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8259.
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