Gov. Kim Reynolds closed bars in six counties Aug. 27 to combat rising COVID-19 numbers in young people and did not deny the possibility of raising the drinking age.
Iowa has no statewide mask mandate despite steadily rising COVID-19 infections and the recommendation for a mandate by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Reynolds has made it clear that individual cities and counties do not have the authority to enforce a mask mandate, though some Iowa cities, including Des Moines and Iowa City, have issued mandates.
Last week, Ames City Council voted to pass a face covering ordinance without penalty.
Currently, 50 percent of Iowa’s COVID-19 cases are from those aged 18 to 40. These cases have seemingly been fueled by college students returning to campus and attending parties and local bars.
In an effort to stall rising cases, Reynolds closed bars in six Iowa counties that had the highest positivity rates. During a press conference last week when asked about the possibility of raising the drinking age, she didn’t write it off.
Iowa State students have strong feelings about Reynolds’ actions and her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lydia Spurgeon, senior in elementary education, said that while Reynolds made the right decision by closing the bars, there are other actions that could prevent Iowa’s rising cases.
“The state should have a mask mandate in place, giving restaurants and other public places more authority to enforce patrons wearing their masks,” Spurgeon said. “Blaming college students for the spread of the virus is unfair. While many have completely disregarded the public health guidelines, this should have been anticipated by people of power such as Reynolds and university presidents.”
She went on to talk about the economic impact of the virus.
“As someone who was greatly financially impacted by the pandemic, I am well aware of the economic hardships that are at stake when it comes to closures,” Spurgeon said. “However, aren’t the lives of our community more important than that? We know we can get past a depression. It isn’t easy, but we can do it.”
Spurgeon also mentioned her feelings regarding Reynolds considering the possibility of increasing the drinking age.
“As someone who works in a restaurant, I tell more 50-70-year-old guests to put on a mask than I do 18-30-year-olds,” Spurgeon said. “Just because the drinking age is raised doesn’t mean college students won’t get alcohol or nicotine or go to the bars. The drinking age of 21 hasn’t stopped anyone. There’s no way raising the drinking age will keep young kids from gathering together and drinking.”
Keaton Maier, senior in materials engineering, also said that closing the bars is the right idea but that raising the drinking age would be pointless.
“Closing bars is a good measure that frankly should have been taken before students returned to campuses,” Maier said. “However, I cannot see any benefit that could be had from raising the drinking age. Bars are already closed, and the drinking age hasn’t stopped any college student from drinking in a private residence before, and it still won’t if she raises it.”
One student who wished to remain anonymous believes that the bars should remain open for many reasons.
“The bars are small businesses, and it is hard for them to stay open with few customers," they said. "They are used to not having students in the summer, and they plan to make up for it when college starts in the fall."
They also talked about the social aspect that the bars provide for students and the mental health implications that limited social interaction could have on young people.
“Social interaction is important to anyone, especially when a person is taking five online classes and stays in their apartment all day,” the student said. “Another possible negative effect of losing social interaction is a decline in mental health. The lockdowns and quarantine this year have shown how tough isolation is for people. It is important for people to be able to go interact with others.”
They went on to say that because college students are young and most likely to be asymptomatic or to show only minor symptoms, the bars being closed does more harm than good.
“Now, with the bars being closed, social gatherings will happen either way due to the minor risks. Whether it is a house party or an apartment party, students will find a way to drink,” the student said. “The bars should be open to support the small businesses, mental health and the college experience.”
Ethan Cooper, junior in electrical engineering, said that he feels the closure of the bars was the right thing to do, but it came too late.
“It feels as if it’s both too late to make a difference and almost a caveat to avoid taking responsibility from the community leadership,” Cooper said. “While it certainly makes me happy that the students going out are all broken-hearted because they can’t do their favorite activity, it does nothing to prevent students from going to parties and finding ways to get their fix.”
He said that the students going out and gathering in large crowds as they did on "801 Day" are worsening the situation.
“These students make a conscious choice to make our situation worse every time they go out, and in doing so, [they] affirm to everyone how selfish they are,” Cooper said. “If you’re upset that you can’t post on social media about your weekend for fear of mass criticism, stop telling yourself that other people are being mean to you and own up to your own cowardice and stupidity. If you’re fearful that people will call you a bad person for doing something, you probably shouldn’t be doing that thing.”
Cooper also spoke about Reynolds’ action as well as those of Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen.
“As far as political leadership, whether it’s Kim Reynolds, Wendy Wintersteen or anyone else, their absolute premium focus right now is their image," Cooper said. "They have shown us through their actions that their worst fear is not worsening the pandemic or killing off community members but rather maintaining their source of income."
He believes that actions like closing the bars, raising the drinking age and removing fans from the first football game are PR moves in favor of image as opposed to actions that show genuine care for the community.
“Right now, leadership is making decisions so as not to offend anyone so they still get paid, and it’s absolutely abhorring,” Cooper said. “Implement a mask mandate, and fine people who don’t follow it. Stop making decisions to try not to piss anyone off. Stop saying you stand with the people and actually start standing with them.”
Wintersteen said last week that there are still no plans to move to online-only instruction. During the first two weeks of school, 839 cases of COVID-19 were reported at Iowa State. Of these cases, 206 were self-reported. Results are being updated on a weekly basis.