DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Kim Reynolds is lifting some COVID-19 restrictions in Iowa, including all limits on social gatherings, citing data that show the pandemic situation here is improving.
Effective 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the governor will remove a 10 p.m. curfew set for indoor dining at bars and restaurants and she will lift the 15-person limit for indoor social gatherings and the 30-person limit for outdoor gatherings. Social distancing is still required.
"I don't want to over restrict. I think you have to be careful of doing that," Reynolds said. "As the governor of the state of Iowa I have to find that balance to protect the lives and livelihoods of Iowans."
Her mask requirements for public places when social distancing is not possible remains in effect. The new proclamation extends until January 8.
“We've made tremendous progress over the last several weeks, in large part due to Iowans adjusting their behavior, and we're seeing the positive impact that attack," Reynolds said during a Wednesday news conference.
In mid-November, Iowa saw its highest record of hospitalizations and staggering new COVID-19 cases, which drove Reynolds to implement more restrictions to avoid overwhelming the health care system.
A month later, the governor said the CDC reports in the last week, Iowa ranks 35th in the nation for new cases. The state reports a 10.4% test positivity rate statewide over the last seven days and 13.7% over the last 14 days.
746 Iowans are in the hospital with COVID-19, nearly half of the levels seen last month when more than 1,500 were hospitalized.
“This doesn't mean that our work is done, but it's proof that we have the tools necessary to effectively manage the virus while balancing the activities of our daily lives," Reynolds said. "And we've now seen firsthand how serious the consequences can be when we don't strike that balance”
Infectious disease experts rebuff the decision and say the pandemic has not improved enough to reverse course. Dr. Rossana Rosa, an infectious disease doctor at UnityPoint Health, wrote on Twitter that it's "not the time" to ease restrictions.
There were nearly 2,000 new cases reported in the 24-hour period ending 10 a.m. Wednesday. More than 3,300 Iowans have died from the disease and more than 260,000 total Iowans have been infected since the pandemic began.
"It seems Iowans heeded to advice of not gathering in large groups over Thanksgiving. But with today's announcement, I fear many people are likely to interpret that it's ok to gather and have large parties," Rosa said.
Iowa's News Now/KGAN asked the governor Wednesday if she is concerned that removing limits on social gatherings could drive up cases in a few weeks, especially with the Christmas holiday looming.
"I believe that we struck the right balance and it's the right thing to do, we'll continue to monitor it," Reynolds said. "I've demonstrated that if I see the numbers impact our hospitalizations and our hospitals are concerned about being able to meet the needs of Iowans, then we'll dial back up and that's what I've done throughout the pandemic.”
This was Reynolds first news conference since some Iowans received the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, a significant step forward on the path to the state's and country's recovery.
The governor said that 500 health care workers have received doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine since Tuesday.