Restaurants, retail stores and fitness centers can reopen on May 1 in 77 of the state’s 99 counties that have shown stabilization and downward trends in coronavirus cases, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced today.

Polk, Dallas, Jasper and Marshall counties in Central Iowa are among those where restrictions will not be lifted. 

The announcement came as Reynolds also said there were 349 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, with nine additional deaths. That brings to 5,868 the total number of confirmed cases in Iowa, with 127 deaths.

Despite the increases, Reynolds said expanded testing and contact tracing has helped state health officials better identify and isolate people who are infected with the virus, and fight the spread of the illness.

As of today, 1 in 82 Iowans has been tested and the state will soon expand testing to up to 3,000 Iowans per day, Reynolds said during her daily news conference.

“The reality is we cannot stop the virus and that it will remain in our communities until a vaccine is available,” she said. “Instead, we must learn to live with COVID virus activity without letting it govern our lives.”

The announcement that restaurants, stores and fitness centers can reopen comes after Friday’s announcement that hospitals could resume elective, or nonessential, surgeries, and that farmers markets could reopen.

The businesses included in today’s announcement will be restricted to 50% capacity and must continue to use social distancing practices.

As an example, Reynolds said tables in restaurants must be 6 feet apart, and restaurants must limit the number of customers they serve.

While malls may reopen, play centers, common areas and food courts must remain closed, the governor said.

Reynolds said the significant mitigation strategies the state has taken to limit the spread of the virus are working, but that it’s time to begin reopening the state’s economy.

“This level of mitigation is not sustainable for the long term and it has unintended consequences for Iowa families, so we must gradually shift from an aggressive mitigation strategy to focusing on containing and managing virus activity for the long term in a way that allows us to safely and responsibly balance the health of our people and the health of our economy,” she said.

Restrictions will remain in place limiting the number of people that can gather to fewer than 10 for leisure, recreational and sporting events, but Reynolds did lift that restriction for religious and spiritual activities.

All other restrictions statewide will be extended through May 15.

Reynolds said that while some restrictions are being lifted, residents still need to limit their time outside their homes, continue to practice social distancing and take measures to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

“I need you to continue to do your part,” she said. “Continue doing what you’re doing to protect yourself and your family.”

Reynolds said state health officials will closely monitor those areas that will begin to reopen, and take action if a spike in cases is detected.

“I hope that we’re able to do it, by going slow, that we can sustain where we’re at, stabilize and take a look at maybe  additional openings … but it also gives us some time … if we do see an uptick and start to see some of the numbers really start to spike then we’re going to have to take a look at maybe dialing back some of those things.”