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White House recommends mask mandate, bar closures in 61 Iowa counties, including Cerro Gordo, Winnebago
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White House recommends mask mandate, bar closures in 61 Iowa counties, including Cerro Gordo, Winnebago

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DES MOINES — Serious warnings and urgent calls to action are littered throughout the latest report on Iowa from the White House task force on COVID-19.

To date, the state has not heeded some of the White House’s recommendations.

The latest report, published Sunday, says Iowa’s new coronavirus cases per population are the highest in the country, almost triple the national average. The task force strongly recommends bars closed and restaurant capacity limited in 61 counties.

The report also strongly recommends a statewide mandate that Iowans wear face masks while in public.

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“Community transmission continues to be high in rural and urban counties across Iowa, with increasing transmission in the major university towns. Mask mandates across the state must be in place to decrease transmission,” the report reads.

Reynolds has encouraged the use of face masks while in public but has refused to issue a statewide mandate. She claims such a mandate would be difficult to enforce.

Iowa’s rolling 14-day average of positive tests is just more than 10%, according to state public health data.

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There have been strong surges in cases in Iowa’s college towns as students have returned to campuses for the fall semester. In response, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered the closure of bars and night clubs in six counties, including those counties where the state’s largest universities are located.

But the White House task force report says bars should be closed in 61 counties where the virus is spreading.

Previously, the task force recommended closing bars only in red counties. In the latest report, the task force recommends closing bars in both red and yellow counties.

“Bars must be closed, and indoor dining must be restricted to 50% of normal capacity in yellow zone and 25% of normal capacity in red zone counties and metro areas,” the report says.

The task force categorizes counties and metro areas by the rate of the virus’ spread. Iowa has 28 counties in the red zone — the highest rates of spread — and 33 more in the yellow zone, according to the latest task force report.

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The report also recommends university towns develop “a comprehensive plan that scales immediately for testing all returning students with routine surveillance testing to immediately identify new cases and outbreaks and isolate and quarantine.”

Iowa’s cases per population are the highest in the country and its test positivity is fifth-highest in the nation, according to the report. The state’s 232 new cases per 100,000 population in the last week is nearly triple the national average of 88 per 100,000.

New coronavirus deaths, hospitalizations and cases have been climbing in Iowa in recent weeks. Over the course of the pandemic, 1,121 Iowans have died of COVID-19-related causes.

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