“Closing Time” for bars in Black Hawk county

College Hill empty after Governor Kim Reynolds signs proclamation order


This last weekend College Hill looked drastically different than it had the weekend before, with empty streets and no glowing open bar signs in sight. On Thursday August 27th, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a proclamation ordering bars to close in six Iowa counties until September 20th, including Blackhawk county.

On the same day, UNI released a statement in support of the proclamation, stating

“While it’s unfortunate these temporary steps were needed, and although we recognize the value these businesses bring to our community, it’s clear that public safety guidelines were not being uniformly enforced and those environments have been identified through contact tracing as a significant source of COVID-19 transmission.”

As of 4:00 p.m. on August 29, the New York Times reported that Iowa has seen 7,497 new positive cases in the last seven days. The New York Times also shared that Iowa has seen a total of 63,112 positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Residents and students in the Cedar Valley have mixed emotions about the proclamation. Some are worried about possible financial hardships for employees and businesses but feel the health and safety of the community is important. David Suhr, a new Cedar Valley resident and bartender at Voodoo said bars wouldn’t have had to close down if protocols were followed by bar-goers. Suhr said, “To me, the bars shouldn’t have opened when they did. No safety protocols were put in place to prevent things like this happening. I’ve been to several bars that even follow the half capacity rules. The effect on bar workers is a shock to the weekly routine… I’m more worried for local bars that were struggling to get by after the first closure.”

Kathryn Sogard, Executive Director of College Hill Partnership, disagrees with Governor Reynolds’s proclamation. In a post on the College Hill Partnership’s Facebook page, Sogard wrote, “We believe this shut down will not have the desired effect… when you start dispersing groups of people who want to be in a social setting, it will just move from one area to the next… when they are physically within the four walls of a bar, that establishment has an obligation to keep patrons separate and socially distanced. With this proclamation, the Governor is placing the burden on a few instead of asking a small sacrifice from all. This new order demonstrates a void of leadership without implementing a mask mandate.”

Suhr is also worried about him and his coworkers’ possible financial hardships. Due to the government no longer offering an extra $600 a week for unemployment, individuals who are bartenders are left with few options for supplemental income.

Dave Deibler, the owner of Octopus, is divided on bars closing down. The personal side of him agrees with Governor Reynolds’s decision, and he believes that bars should have remained closed in the first place. The business side of him feels furious at the proclamation, which was sudden to him.

“To only close bars in 6 counties?” Deibler said. “That feels more like a punishment. Like, if I want to go get a beer, what’s stopping me from driving up to Waverly?”

A Facebook message from Octopus also expresses disapproval about Governor Reynolds’s quick closure of the bars, saying, “She gave us four hours notice! We couldn’t even get rid of some of our inventory or make plans for shutting down.”

The author of the message believes college students are being unfairly targeted for spreading COVID-19.

 “Iowa is #1 in the nation for per capita COVID-19 cases,” the message shared. “You can’t lay that on college students. It happened because Iowans of all ages and occupations have treated the pandemic and mask-wearing as a joke. Octopus and a lot of other small businesses are now paying a heavy price for that attitude.”

The author of the message showed frustrated because Octopus has been following the mandates and rules that have been put into place. They described the act of closing down bars in six counties while restaurants are allowed to remain open as “more like a punishment than trying to solve a problem.”

“I wish the Governor had shown some leadership and courage back in May and kept us locked down,” the message said. “I [also] think there should be a state-wide mask mandate right now.”

Kaitlyn Leabo, a sophomore at UNI studying elementary and middle-level education, agrees with Governor Reynolds’s decision to close the bars. In a message via Facebook Messenger, Leabo said, “Yes, people can still get together without social distancing and masks somewhere else. But they were probably getting most of their cases from the bars. As no one follows the guidelines for masks. Which I don’t blame them. Who wants to wear a mask at a bar?”

Although people might be unhappy with Governor Reynolds’s decision, Leabo thinks it’s “what needed to be done” to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Isaac Campbell, a graduate student at UNI, feels strongly about how the pandemic has been handled since the beginning of the year and said, “Let’s not forget that we knew about COVID-19 in January of 2020. It wasn’t a problem at UNI until March. What we are experiencing now, this chaos and uncertainty, is a direct result of failed leadership. Governor Reynolds has issued no major legislation or solutions to slow the spread of this virus, in stark contrast to our neighboring states…In her efforts to prioritize the economy over our lives and safety, more people are needlessly suffering physically, emotionally, and financially than ever before. We cannot allow ourselves to forget how we got to this point.”