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Iowa City Police Field COVID Complaints As Bars Reopen

Drinks on a bar
Cultura/Liam Norris
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Iowa City police fielded multiple complaints over the weekend of residents not following COVID-19 guidelines while hitting the downtown bars.

The Iowa City Police Department responded to multiple complaints over the weekend of residents not following rules meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The reports come on the first weekend bars in Johnson County could reopen, after Gov. Kim Reynolds lifted restrictions on the businesses related to COVID-19.

Young people could be seen lined up outside of bars in downtown Iowa City this past weekend with varying degrees of mask wearing and social distancing.

“LOTS OF PEOPLE IN LINE, NOT WEARING MASKS, NOT SOCIAL DISTANCING,” reads one Iowa City police log entry from Saturday in regards to the bar Pints on South Clinton Street.

The police department fielded multiple such complaints about residents not adhering to public health guidelines around downtown, as well as reports of loud, off-campus parties.

“[PEOPLE] NOT WEARING MASKS, WHEN CONFRONTED THEY GET AGGRESSIVE WITH STAFF,” reads one log from Friday in reference to the bar Martinis on East College Street in downtown.

Reynolds shut down bars in multiple counties earlier this fall, when cases spiked as college students returned to campus. Restrictions against bars were held in place longest in Johnson and Story counties, home to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University respectively, but were lifted in the two counties beginning Monday Oct. 5.

There are concerns reopening the bars could further exacerbate Iowa’s high levels of community spread, which has led to “many preventable deaths” in the state, according to the White House Coronavirus Task Force report released Oct. 4.

The state has now surpassed 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and saw multiple days of record high hospitalizations last week.

Social gatherings such as going to bars are particularly concerning, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Chief Medical Officer Theresa Brennan said on IPR’s River to River on Monday.

“When people are together in a social situation inside for a period of time, a longer period of time, and they’re not following the recommended distancing and wearing masks, that is when the risk is really the highest,” Brennan said.

“Social situations really were a driver,” in Johnson County’s previous spike she added, “particularly having bars and restaurants being open."

Under the reopening proclamation, bars must enforce social distancing, and patrons are to remain seated and distanced from other groups within the business.

Additionally, Iowa City has a mask mandate in place, requiring residents to wear face coverings in public settings or face fines.

Capt. Denise Brotherton of the ICPD says officers are continuing to take an “educational approach” to enforcement.

“The majority of the downtown bars were observed making a dedicated effort to maintain appropriate capacity inside and social distancing and mask wearing in lines waiting to enter the business,” Brotherton said. “Any bars that appeared to have issues, quickly addressed them after police contacted them.”

Brotherton said officers will report ongoing issues to the state Alcoholic Beverages Division, which can levy fines, suspend or revoke licenses of businesses that don’t comply with COVID restrictions.

No such reports were forwarded to the ABD based on complaints from this past weekend Brotherton said, but added that officers will keep an eye out for repeat issues this coming weekend.

Private citizens can also file a complaint with the department by filling out this form.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter