Reynolds relaxes some business restrictions in 77 counties including Lee County effective May 1
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Home bound residents of southeast Iowa, Illinois and Missouri could soon be turning their eyes toward Lee County as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds included the county as one of 77 that are having restrictions loosened in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
During Reynold’s daily presser from the state’s Emergency Operations Center, the first-term governor announced an initial phase of trying to get the state restarted in areas not hardest hit by the coronavirus.
The proclamation permits restaurants, fitness centers, malls, libraries, race tracks, and certain other retail establishments to reopen in a limited fashion with public health measures in place.
In addition, the proclamation lifts the restriction on religious and spiritual gatherings so long as churches and other gathering hosts implement reasonable public health measures. All other closures were extended until May 15, 2020.
She said 15 counties in the state haven’t seen any impact from the virus and used that as a springboard to start relaxing some restrictions set forth in March emergency orders.
Lee County Health Department Administrator Michele Ross said she was surprised by the move considering Lee County has doubled it’s positive counts over the past four days.
On Monday, the LCHD released that an eighth county resident had tested positive for the coronavirus and was in isolation. The state has seen close to 1,300 new positives since Friday and the recovery rate has dropped 2% since then from 36% to 34%. The state has seen 127 deaths as a result of the COVID-19 illness.
Reynolds said the virus isn’t going away until a vaccine is developed and Iowans needs to start living with it as a part of daily routines.
“Iowans must learn to live with COVID virus activity without letting it govern our lives,” she said.
“This level of mitigation is not sustainable for the long-term. We must gradually shift from mitigation to a focus on containing the virus activity for the long-term.”
But she said Iowans also need to be prepared to slow things back down if numbers of positives spike in the counties with relaxed restrictions.
“We have to be honest. If we see an uptick and see numbers start to spike we may have to dial back some of those things, too. We hope we don’t have to go there, but we learn every day how to mitigate this virus and manage it.”
Chase Gibb, owner of Buffalo61 Bar and Grille in Fort Madison, The Buffalo Tavern, and Coal Haus 337, both in Burlington said he’s planning for large sales starting Friday.
“I’m’ preparing for that monster,” Gibb said. “I love opening new sites, but that first three weeks is just brutal and I think it will be something like that.”
He said he plans on pulling tables from the restaurant in Fort Madison to keep the required distance in place. But he’s not sure if he will reopen the full bar service or not, and probably won’t take reservations.
“I imagine it will be like when we opened. People are going to be traveling down, but it has to be first-come, first-served. We’ll be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and having capacity for just 80 a a time, I’m sure it will be non-stop for the most part.”
Gibbs said he offered furloughs to his staff in Burlington but no one took advantage of the new temporary unemployment rules or the federal stimulus. He said his numbers since the outbreak have actually been up due to some proactive marketing, delivery and carry out offerings, and onsite coal-fired pizza offerings.
“We were hustling to make this stuff happen so we could continue to pay our bills and stay ahead of the curve. We’re doing well, it wasn’t that tough. I have a staff that wants to work,” he said.
Gibb also received a $25,000 grant from the Iowa’s Small Business Grant program for the Buffalo Tavern. He said he was able to use that money to beef up labor and do some extra things around the area.
Fort Madison YMCA Executive Director Ryan Wilson said he won’t have the Y open by Friday as state organization officials sift through the requirements of the new declaration.
“We’re all trying to figure it out exactly. At this time there are a lot of unknowns, like what 50% capacity means for us.”
Wilson said he’s holding a staff meeting Tuesday morning to determine what hours will look like going forward.
He said hopes to have an announcement by Thursday as to when the facilities will open back up.