Iowa governor doesn’t rule out raising drinking age as COVID-19 cases surge among young Iowans

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Iowa — Governor Kim Reynolds says she isn’t ruling out further action to address the meteoric rise in COVID-19 cases among younger Iowans, including raising the drinking age.

Iowa leads the nation in new COVID-19 cases per capita in the last two weeks, coinciding with the return of college students to Iowa campuses. Governor Reynolds says the majority of those cases are Iowans in their late teens and early 20’s in university and college towns. This week Ames and Iowa City ranked first and second national in new COVID-19 cases per capita.

Governor Reynolds responded to that spike in infections last week when she announced the closures of bars and alcohol serving limitations in six Iowa counties. Reynolds said on Wednesday that she is hopeful those mitigation efforts will slow the spread of the virus. If those measures prove ineffective, Reynolds says she will take further action.

When asked specifically if she’s considered raising the drinking age in Iowa to keep younger crowds out of bars, Reynolds did not rule it out.

“Well, we’re going to try this first,” Governor Reynolds said, “We had restrictions, they didn’t abide by that. We put enforcement behind it, we gave them a warning, we set up a fine, we said if it happens again you’re going to lose your license.”

The governor stressed that she hopes that isn’t the case and that in the next week numbers will hopefully begin to drop. “I don’t like doing that,” she said, “I am trying to balance the health and safety of Iowans with the livelihood of these small businesses. This has been a horrible year and nobody understands that as much as I do.”

The surge in cases in Story County comes as the Iowa State Cyclones prepare to begin the football season. ISU has said 25,000 fans will be allowed in the stands. Governor Reynolds defended the decision to allow the large crowd. She says the stadium will be at less than half its capacity, fans will be spread out and outdoors. She suggested all fans wear masks. On Tuesday the City of Ames approved an ordinance that would require masks in the city. The Governor had advice for those concerned about the potential negative health impacts of the crowd: “If you don’t think it’s safe, don’t go.”

Reynolds also announced that the state is offering assistance to bars and restaurants affected by the closures she ordered. Business owners can apply for up to $10,000 to offset cash flow issues through the Iowa Small Business Relief Program.

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