An Iowa man held a horse auction this week that drew about 600 people, despite pleas from health officials during a time of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders to fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Ura Gingerich held the auction Thursday in Wayne County, about 78 miles south of Des Moines. He told local health officials he wanted to sell his horses so that he could move to Ohio, according to a statement from the Wayne County health officials provided to CNN affiliate KCCI. CNN has reached out to Gingerich but has not heard back.
“We just wanted to postpone it until this whole coronavirus thing was over,” Shelly Bickel, Wayne County Health Department administrator, told CNN.
Despite the health risks that came with hosting the auction, there was legally nothing officials could do, Bickel said. Health officials did screen attendees. There were already 100 people at the location when health officials arrived at 6:15 am to screen attendees, Bickel said.
“If we couldn’t stop this, we were going to make it as safe as possible,” she said.
There were no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Wayne County as of Friday afternoon, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
“The current state of regulations that apply to livestock auctions during the Coronavirus pandemic at this time are vague and almost worthless,” said Dr. Joel Wells, chairman of the Wayne County Board of Health, in a statement released Monday.
Livestock auctions like the one Gingerich held were allowed “because they are part of the food production supply chain,” said Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, but she did say attendees needed to practice social distancing and other safeguards.
“These horses were not part of the food chain. They were racehorses, show horses and for their buggies,” Bickel said, adding that more than 150 horses were sold at the auction.
The crowd at the auction Thursday consisted of mostly Amish people who came from Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Wisconsin, Bickel said. Health officials screened and collected names and addresses of 488 people, she said.
After criticism of the event, Reynolds issued a new proclamation Thursday that limited livestock auctions to 10 attendees unless they include food animals, in which case the limit would be 25 attendees, according to the governor’s website.
The order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday and will continue through April 30.