116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Mayor Brad Hart on Monday eased the city’s mask mandate to allow fully vaccinated people to gather outdoors without masks based on recent modifications to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on curbing the spread of COVID-19.
The updated CDC guidelines advise that fully vaccinated people may gather or conduct activities outdoors without masks in certain settings. The city will continue to require masks for groups of 50 or more, as well as in crowded outdoor settings and venues “where it is not possible for groups or individual attendees to take reasonable public health measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19,” according to a news release.
“It’s just an opportunity to thank people for being diligent and also to make this change to comply with CDC’s changes and to remind people to stay diligent so that hopefully we can end the mask mandate soon,” Hart said.
A local mask rule has been in effect since Hart signed an emergency proclamation in September requiring masks or face coverings be worn in public, weeks before coronavirus cases spiked in Iowa and surpassed 5,000 in a single day at the peak of the November surge.
Hart said he would continue to rely on guidance from Linn County Public Health to determine whether a mask mandate needs to remain in effect. There is no end date identified at this time.
Some variables remain, Hart said, such as declining demand for vaccinations and the emergence of new, more transmissible variants in Iowa and around the world.
“Generally, I think that we have to have a very low positivity rate for probably seven to 14 days, and we have to have a higher percentage of our population being vaccinated,” Hart said.
Mayors of several Iowa cities, including Des Moines and Iowa City, last summer also implemented their own mask mandates to push back on state officials' stances that local governments lack legal authority to issue such mandates.
Cedar Rapids officials have said the proclamation has been focused on education rather than enforcement.
Hart said he did not expect the modified mandate to change behavior significantly, whether people remove masks to enjoy a meal outdoors or decide they are more comfortable with masks on. But he hoped it would give people hope there will be an end to the pandemic. He emphasized it is important for people to get vaccinated.
Although Cedar Rapids has moved to ease restrictions, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who also serves on the county Board of Health, which oversees Linn County Public Health, said it is not time yet to relax virus mitigation efforts.
Walker said the supervisors will continue to encourage residents to be safe and work to keep others safe until the community reaches herd immunity. He highlighted CDC’s guidance encouraging people to wear masks and observe social distancing, even with the recent changes.
"We are still in a pandemic, and we are still a long ways away from achieving herd immunity,” Walker said in an email.
“While everyone is eager for this pandemic to be over, we’re not quite there yet. I believe it would be irresponsible to ease mitigation standards at this time, and doing so would send the wrong message to the public.”
In Johnson County, Sam Jarvis, the county community health manager, recently said there are no planned changes to the mask mandate at this time, but Johnson County Public Health encourages people to read the CDC recommendations.
"It’s certainly good news to hear that vaccinations are working as expected and as we hoped for,” Jarvis said. “The CDC’s ‘choose safer activities’ do point out that even if outdoors and in crowded spaces that they still recommend wearing a mask. We hope that these recommendations also demonstrate how important it is for everyone to get vaccinated.”
Iowa City also has not modified its city mask mandate.
Comments: (319) 398-8494; email@example.com
Lee Hermiston and Michaela Ramm of The Gazette contributed to this report.