CORONAVIRUS

Cedar Rapids issues mask mandate as coronavirus cases spike

It joins other communities in Iowa in taking stronger steps

Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart speaks with a firefighter Aug. 14 at the Cedar Rapids Central Fire Station. (Andy Abeyta/Th
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart speaks with a firefighter Aug. 14 at the Cedar Rapids Central Fire Station. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Mayor Brad Hart signed an emergency proclamation Wednesday requiring face masks be worn in public as a measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus as Iowa is among the states leading the nation in the number of cases per capita.

Cedar Rapids joins five other Iowa cities with mask mandates — Des Moines, Iowa City, Dubuque, Mount Vernon and Muscatine — as municipalities push back on state officials’ stances that local governments lack the legal authority to issue such mandates.

The mandate comes as the Iowa Department of Public Health on Wednesday morning counted 66,139 COVID-19 cases across the state, with 3,005 of those in Linn County. For the first time in nearly eight weeks, the number of new cases added in Linn County dropped Wednesday to just three.

The proclamation says the trend of rising case numbers put “the health care system and city residents in immediate danger” while there is “no end in sight to the situation.”

“For several months, I have been encouraging, even begging, for the voluntary use of masks by all residents in public in order to protect our residents and get us back to our normal lives more quickly,” Hart said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we have continued to see an increase of cases throughout Iowa, making a mask mandate more critical than ever to slow the spread in our community.”

City Council member Ashley Vanorny, a health care worker and vocal advocate for enacting a mask mandate, told The Gazette this step finally puts the city in line with public health recommendations.

She said she hopes Gov. Kim Reynolds will reconsider her opposition to issuing a statewide mask mandate, especially in light of the White House task force’s recommendations this week that Iowa enact stricter measures.

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“I feel like there’s such a good density of support for this,” Vanorny said. “I really don’t know why Gov. Reynolds is failing to act at this moment. I feel like she’s just avoiding the facts and the truth on this.”

The city’s enforcement will focus on education, according to the statement, emphasizing the need for health and safety in the community. The Cedar Rapids Police Department will have face coverings available to distribute to residents not following the rule.

Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor or municipal infraction. But Hart said he believes “most of the citizens of our city will abide by the terms of this proclamation.”

City residents and visitors are required to wear face coverings across their nose and mouth in public places, including:

• Public transportation• Outdoor spaces if keeping 6 feet away from others is not possible

• Indoor public settings, such as grocery stores, retails stores and other public settings that are not one’s home

Businesses may not serve customers or allow customers to enter their premises without a face covering. They must post signs at their entrances to inform customers of their legal obligation to wear a face covering.

Individuals do not have to wear masks outdoors when they are alone, or with members of their household.

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They also aren’t required to wear masks during exercise, while eating and drinking at a food establishment or when they’re obtaining a service that would require temporary removal of a face covering.

People who are exempt include:

• Those under 2 years

• Those who have trouble breathing

• Those who have been told by medical, behavioral and legal professionals not to wear face coverings

• Those actively engaged in a public safety role, such as law enforcement and emergency medical personnel

The Linn County Board of Supervisors and Board of Health passed a proclamation Aug. 5 asking Reynolds to modify her emergency proclamation to turn over control to local governments to handle the public health crisis.

The county officials, backed by Linn County mayors, urged the governor to give them the power to enact localized responses to curb the spread of COVID-19 “such as legally enforceable restrictions on the activity and actions of persons who do not wear face coverings when the use of such face coverings may protect lives and public health.”

In neighboring Johnson County, the Board of Supervisors in August adopted a mask mandate. While county officials have said the measure is not intended to be punitive, failure to comply is a potential simple misdemeanor with fines starting at $105.

Reynolds has urged Iowans to wear masks in public but has said she will not require it.

She has said local officials do not have the authority to enact enforceable mask mandates.

But questions remain on the scope of local control during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Iowa Code still grants cities and counties power to “preserve and improve the peace, safety, welfare, comfort and convenience of their residents,” according to a memo from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

In issuing the emergency proclamation, Hart cites a portion of Iowa Code that states a city may set standards “more stringent than those imposed by state law, unless a state law provides otherwise.”

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Chief among a city’s powers is promoting the health and safety of its residents, according to the order.

“I have issued proclamations due to the dangers presented by COVID-19 and I have determined that additional extraordinary measures are necessary to protect and not worsen the health, safety and welfare within the community,” it states.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

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