RURAL SEYMOUR — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced new restrictions on livestock auctions. The announcement came Thursday after a trotting horse auction in Seymour with hundreds in attendance from multiple states was allowed to take place.
In the proclamation issued at 4 p.m. Thursday, Reynolds is ordering that livestock auctions be limited to 10 attendees unless they include food animals in which case the limit would be 25 attendees.
The proclamation is issued as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iowa grew to 614 on Thursday. COVID-19 is a disease caused by the new coronavirus. It’s mild in many cases with symptoms similar to a cold or flu, but it can also lead to severe respiratory issues and death particularly in older or immunocompromised people.
Under the order, individuals who remain inside parked cars, trucks or other motor vehicles should not be counted, the order says, so long as all windows, sunroofs and convertible tops are closed.
The order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday and will continue through April 30.
Reynolds, in trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, has closed restaurants, bars, fitness centers and many non-essential retailers to date. On Thursday, she announced schools in the state would remain closed until at least April 30.
Prior to Reynolds’ order, an auction was allowed to go on in rural Wayne County. Public health officials there said more than 150 horses were sold on a property in rural Seymour.
Shelley Bickel, the administrator of Wayne County’s public health department, said her office estimated about 600 attended Thursday’s auction. The organizer, Ura Gingerich, said he is moving to Ohio and needed the auction to be carried out.
Gingerich originally planned to hold the auction on March 18 but had postponed it to Thursday after the governor banned public gatherings. Her ban, however, did not extend to agricultural auctions at the time.
Officials, saying that the guidance in place at the time was “vague and almost worthless,” were unable to stop the auction that began Thursday morning.
Instead, they set up screening stations on the public road that led to the auction site. Before they could, however, an estimated 100 people already were inside the auction venue. For the safety of staff, Bickel said, they did not attempt to screen those people already on the property.
Health officials, expecting 100 based on Gingerich’s projection, instead screened and collected names and addresses of 488 people.
Individuals attending came from six different states in addition to Iowa. Those included Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio which all have statewide shelter-in-place orders of some kind in effect. There were also attendees from Missouri, where there are stay at home orders in some cities and counties.
The screening process for the auction included a questionnaire about recent illness, travel and potential exposure to COVID-19. There were not enough staff to be able to take temperatures as part of the screening, Bickel said.
One van of an undetermined number of people was turned away as one of the passengers had a cough, which is one of the symptoms associated with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.
There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Wayne County, though in neighboring Appanoose County there has been one case confirmed.
Questioned on Wednesday about the auction by media, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said the auction could continue and she asked attendees to practice social distancing and other safeguards.
“They need to practice social distancing,” Reynolds said. “They need to adhere to the guidelines that have been in place by the Department of Agriculture as well as the Department of Public Health.”
Reynolds said the auction was allowed “because they are part of the food production supply chain.”
During Thursday’s press conference, Reynolds was not asked about livestock auctions. A request for comment sent to the Governor’s communication director Thursday was not immediately returned.
Previous to the order, guidelines jointly issued by the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship as of March 23 said that auctions should be postponed if they can be. The order issued Thursday would override that recommendation.
In the previous guidelines, auction-holders were asked to use technology to host virtual sales, or for in-person sales to limit the number of buyers in the area and allow at least a six-foot separation between themselves at all times.
Social distancing didn’t appear to be a major priority of attendees, with groups of several dozen seated or standing shoulder-to-shoulder as the auction took place.
A similar auction was planned to be held in rural Cincinnati, Iowa Wednesday.