116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids’ decision to reinstate a requirement for visitors and staff to wear masks in the city’s public buildings to curb the spread of COVID-19 came under fire Tuesday from Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, who represents the city in Congress.
Cedar Rapids’ mask requirement for city buildings took effect Monday as COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Linn County currently is at a high risk level, signaling that indoor mask wearing is advised and people should get tested if they have virus symptoms.
“Wearing a mask should be a personal decision, not a government mandate,” said a statement from Hinson, who faces re-election this year. “Forcing people to wear a mask, including children, continues to be the wrong approach. A toddler shouldn't have to wear a mask in a public library — haven't our children dealt with enough? I will oppose mask mandates and continue advocating for personal responsibility and freedom.”
Members of Congress do not decide city mask policies. Iowa lawmakers last year barred local governments from broadly implementing face mask rules that exceed the state’s policy.
Cedar Rapids’ decision to again mandate mask-wearing while indoors on city properties was based on CDC guidelines. The CDC’s metrics and a county-level risk map are available at CDC.gov.
Cases are climbing amid the spread of the new Omicron subvariant, BA. 5, the dominant variant within the United States that is showing an increased level of transmission, even among those who are vaccinated or have previously been infected.
“We understand this may be frustrating for many of you as we try to move on from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cedar Rapids Human Resources Director Teresa Feldmann wrote in an email to city staff last week. “However, we continue to follow CDC guidelines, and your health and safety will always be our main priority.”
Mercy Medical Center and UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital officials asked Monday for increased community vigilance “as we are again seeing increases in COVID cases and hospitalizations.” That includes measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing indoors and practicing good hand hygiene.
Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell, declining to comment directly on Hinson’s statement, said she stands by the city’s decision and thinks all organizations should have the ability to decide whether to require its employees wear masks.
Before her election last year, O’Donnell, a registered Republican, said mandates were a “last resort” and she would want clear metrics to offer the community a road map showing when the city would issue such a mandate.
While her position remains the same on mandates, O’Donnell said Tuesday she supports reconsidering the metrics used to determine when Cedar Rapids requires masks in city buildings.
“Mandates are designed to save lives,” O’Donnell said. “I do believe mandates are a last resort and need to be treated as such. … I think we can all agree that it is a different today than it was in March 2020, and the city needs to continually evaluate how we make these decisions, especially when it comes to something as extreme as a mandate.”
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