RURAL SEYMOUR — A horse auction near Seymour in Wayne County brought hundreds from the Midwest on Thursday.
The auction continued despite concerns the event could spread the virus that causes COVID-19.
Officials from the Wayne County Department of Public Health were screening individuals, checking for illnesses before they were allowed to enter. However, locals say there were people entering the auction area before those officials were set up and ready to begin checking people.
The auction took place at 2657 210th St., on land owned by Ura Gingerich. The Midwest Trotting Horse Sale was originally scheduled for March 18 but was postponed.
Attendees screened by local public health officials came from across Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. More than 488 were screened before being allowed to enter.
Shelley Bickel, the Wayne County Public Health Administrator, said roughly 100 were already inside the auction venue before health workers arrived at 6:15 a.m. The screening process consisted of health officials providing a flyer with guidelines and asking questions about recent illnesses and travel. Bickel said her staff was too small to take temperatures of all the attendees. She estimated in total there were more than 600 attending the auction.
One van of an undetermined number of people was turned away because one of the passengers had a cough, one of the symptoms associated with COVID-19.
Officials with the Wayne County Public Health Board said state regulations are too vague and don’t give them authority to force the auction to be canceled.
“The current state regulations that apply to livestock auctions during the coronavirus pandemic at this time are vague and almost worthless,” a joint statement from the members of the public health board released Wednesday said. “They are guidelines and by their very nature end up being suggestions and entirely unenforceable.”
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.”
That changed Thursday afternoon. After her press conference, Reynolds signed an order that prohibits “all auctions with more than 10 people present in person are hereby prohibited at all locations and venues, except for livestock auctions that only include food animals, which may continue to operate so long as there are no more than 25 people present in person.”
Over the past three weeks, Reynolds has recommended schools close and ordered restaurants, training facilities and many retail stores closed due to the pandemic.
The statement from Wayne County Public Health Officials said the landowner is moving to Ohio and held the auction of about 65 horses as part of that effort. Gingerich told the county it would be his last auction in the area.