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Harvey Wilhelm
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As COVID-19 cases remain steady, Grinnell businesses are back at full capacity


Governor Kim Reynolds is giving Iowa businesses the go-ahead to open their doors to full capacity.

On June 10, the Governor issued a new order that removed the previous requirement that business operate at 50 percent capacity, issued May 13. Businesses can now operate at full capacity, as long as they continue social distancing measures and increased hygiene practices. The new order goes into effect today.

Restrictions on businesses are being relaxed while the number of cases of COVID-19 in Iowa remains steady, at 200-300 confirmed positive cases per day. As of June 12, Iowa has had more than 20,000 cases of COVID-19 and 642 COVID-19-related deaths.

Poweshiek County has reported 95 confirmed cases and eight deaths since March.

All restaurants and businesses in Grinnell have opened to some capacity, according to President of the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce Rachael Kinnick. Pagliai’s Pizza and Relish are the only restaurants that have not resumed dine-in operation, Kinnick told The S&B in an email.

Among the reopened establishments is the Grinnell Pub, which is owned and operated by Lonnie Lett. Lett opened the pub when Governor Reynold’s first order allowing businesses to reopen took effect, and it has been operating ever since.

Lett and his employees have made various changes to adhere to the state’s requirements, including using tape markers to enforce the six-foot rule and requiring customers to use hand sanitizer upon entry. Additionally, they reduced the number of tables in the restaurant and spaced out the remaining tables and chairs to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus, which spreads primarily through respiratory droplets. Grinnell Pub staff are regularly washing their hands and sanitizing surfaces and bathrooms in the restaurant, according to Lett.

Although some of the restrictions were reduced this week, Grinnell Pub staff will continue their sanitizing and cleansing efforts. “Realistically, we don’t have to do it here [anymore], I just feel like it’s better to do it,” Lett said. As for the lifting of the 50 percent capacity restriction, the pub has not reached 50 percent capacity during its reopening period, according to Lett.

While the Iowa Department of Public Health encourages businesses to provide or allow employees to wear masks when appropriate, Lett has not been enforcing mask-wearing at the pub. “The masks are optional. I don’t believe our employees have to have them on. If someone feels ill, stay home. I’ll pay you for it,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted more than the spacing of tables and mask-wearing. The Grinnell Pub is operating with reduced staff and hours, and Lett is currently working in the kitchen as well as managing the bar after his kitchen manager left the job out of concern about exposing his family to the virus.

“Normally not my spot, but you have to do what you have to do when there’s times that are tough,” he said of the additional work. “You have to be able to adapt and try and make things as profitable as you can think of.”

Over at Frontier Cafe, the reopening process has looked similar. Mickensi Story, a waitress at the popular diner, said that the restaurant has been seating customers at alternating booths and reducing table usage to protect diners and employees from potential virus spread. Hand sanitizer is stationed at the entrance to the diner, and condiment containers have been replaced by disposable single-use packets, according to a post on Frontier Cafe’s Facebook page. Story and other wait staff have been wearing gloves and masks, regularly sanitizing booths and tables. Frontier Cafe plans to continue these measures despite the lessening restrictions, Story said.

Lett and Story agreed that the response to the new pandemic restrictions has been mostly positive. “People have been very good with all the restrictions. Most everybody knows what’s going on just about anywhere you go,” said Lett.

Story said there has been some pushback from customers who disagree with the severity of the measures, though. “It’s give or take. Some people are okay with it, some people feel the way that they feel about it. They think it’s silly, or whatever,” she said.

The Grinnell Pub is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and is delivering meals with a $25 minimum delivery charge.

Frontier Cafe is open from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Sunday, and until 8 p.m. every other day. They do not have a delivery service, but take-out is available.

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