Even in the absence of a statewide mask mandate, some stores, such as the Preservation Station in Burlington, Iowa, require face masks to be worn. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

UPDATE Nov. 17, 2020: Less than a day after Gov. Kim Reynolds’ televised appearance, Iowa surpassed 2,000 COVID-19 deaths. With 33 deaths in the past 24 hours, the state’s death toll now stands at 2,024. In addition, Iowa also set a new record for hospitalizations, with 1,510 COVID-19 patients; a record high 288 patients in intensive care units and a record 130 patients on ventilators.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced somewhat tepid mitigation measures to stem the tidal wave of coronavirus cases during a live address to Iowans on Nov. 16.

Reynolds, a Republican, has been one of the last governor holdouts to implement a mask mandate to help curb the spread of coronavirus, even as hospitalizations, confirmed cases  and deaths have escalated.

Related: Iowa at critical point in pandemic

During her short televised address, Reynolds said as of Nov. 17, face masks will be required in indoor public spaces, but only when people are unable to socially distance for 15 minutes or longer. Religious services are exempt from the requirement.

Indoor social events, including wedding and funeral receptions, family gatherings and conventions, will be limited to 15 people and outdoor events to 30, but the limitations are not in effect for “normal” business or governmental activities.

Sporting events are suspended, except for high school, college and professional sports. Spectators at high school sports are limited to two per participant.

Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, arcades, pool halls, bingo halls and indoor playgrounds are required to close at 10 p.m. and cannot host private gatherings of more than 15 people.

Masks must be worn by staff who have direct contact with customers, and customers must wear masks when they are not seated at their table to eat or drink. The proclamation also requires masks inside casinos and requires hospitals to ensure that inpatient elective procedures are reduced by 50 percent.

Reynolds cited the burgeoning caseload on the health care system. If that continues, “every Iowan who needs medical care will be put at risk,” she said.

All mitigation measures will be reassessed after one week.

“This isn’t about mandates; this isn’t about government,” Reynolds said, adding that her own family will forgo their traditional Thanksgiving gathering this year. “If Iowans don’t buy into this, we lose. Now is the time to come together for the greater good.”

Nationwide, confirmed cases rose above 11 million on Nov. 16, with nearly 250,000 deaths. Reynolds has been in lockstep with the Trump administration’s lax approach to face masks, even as scientists point to a reduction in deaths if more Americans would simply wear a mask to reduce transmission of the virus.

Last week, the Republican governor of North Dakota mandated face masks to be worn in public after increased pressure from health care professionals.

As of 10 a.m. Nov. 16, Iowa reported a record high of 1,392 patients hospitalized with COVID-19; a record high of 271 patients in intensive care units; record high of 243 patients admitted within 24 hours and a record high of 123 patients on ventilators.

During the same period, the state reported a total of 1,991 Iowans had died of COVID-19, with nearly half — 934 deaths — connected to nursing home outbreaks. As of Nov. 16, Iowa reported 100 outbreaks at long-term care facilities. representing nearly one-quarter of the state’s 432 nursing homes listed by Medicare.

Although statistics on Iowa’s coronavirus “dashboard” occasionally change after-the-fact, it appears the highest number of daily cases occurred one week ago, on Nov. 9, with 7,164 positive COVID-19 tests in a single day.

As of Nov. 16, most of the state — 94 of Iowa’s 99 counties — reported a 14-day positivity rate of 15 percent or more, with Jones County ranking first, at 50.8 percent.

Separately, Iowa faith leaders and the Iowa Public Health Association have recently called on Reynolds to issue a statewide mask mandate to curb the spread.

While Reynolds often states she is trying to balance “lives and livelihoods,” most experts agree the economy would be able to rebound once the coronavirus is under control.

Rather than issue a mask mandate previously, she instead directed nearly a half-million dollars into an ad campaign to convince Iowans to “do the right thing,” and last week, issued a proclamation that requires masks, but only in social and other indoor gatherings of 25 people or more, and outdoor gatherings of 100 people or more.

Reynolds was frequently seen during the campaign season at large gatherings in Iowa where masks were not required.

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