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Several Iowa City bars re-closing due to local COVID-19 spike

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Full graph 6.26
The state's new cases map for Johnson County; showing a 640% percent increase between the first and second half of June so far.

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - A handful of bars in Iowa City closed their doors this week, trying to be part of the solution as a huge wave of COVID-19 cases builds in Johnson County.

As of late Friday afternoon, the county had seen 958 total COVID-19 cases; 29% of those (282) have come in the last nine days.

"There's always a delay between the positive cases, hospitalizations and severe outcomes," Jason Zeman said, owner of three Iowa City bars. "The time for action has to be now."

County officials held a press conference on the Ped Mall Thursday afternoon, reminding people most of the new cases are among people age 20-25. They pleaded with the public to continue following safety guidelines which have been in place for months.

Zeman reopened Studio 13, Yacht Club and Eden on June 4; one week after Governor Reynolds allowed bars, breweries and wineries to operate at half capacity. He says it was nice to see customers again but it never felt normal.

"To reopen was a great feeling but there was always this stress," Zeman said.

Zeman said he started hearing through the grapevine that employees at other establishments were testing positive.

State officials said in late May that they would require a business to contact the Iowa Department of Public Health if more than 10% of its workforce tested positive for COVID-19. IDPH will follow-up with the business about best ways to move forward but they aren't required to announce anything publicly.

Some bar owners feel the risk that someone would enter a business without knowing it's been experiencing an outbreak is unfair and unsafe.

"It seems we're being ignored almost at the state level," Zeman said.

The governor's office told KWWL today this period of the pandemic is about "personal responsibility", and it's up to individual establishments to decide on remaining open.

In addition to Zeman's bars, KWWL also learned that George's and The Airliner are also voluntarily closing this week. Each plans to be closed for about two weeks and reassess the situation then.

Management at The Airliner confirmed at least one employee has tested positive for COVID-19. They say the employee worked at the bar in mid-June, without showing symptoms, tested positive before their next shift and has not returned. The owner said he's confident the building is clean and only closed as a precaution to slow the spread.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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