CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart considered issuing a local stay at home order earlier this week to slow the spread of COVID-19, under special mayoral powers granted by an emergency declaration, but backed off after deeming it unenforceable.
“This week I spoke directly with the Governor who confirmed her opinion, which is supported by the Iowa Attorney General, that cities and counties in Iowa do not have the authority to close businesses or order people to stay in their homes,” Hart said in an email about communications with Gov. Kim Reynolds.
“In fairness, the Governor believes the actions she’s taken are, in many ways, equivalent to a shelter in place order.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a federal face of COVID-19 response, made similar comments — that actions taken in Iowa are “functionally equivalent” to a stay at home order.
The question of whether local jurisdictions had authority to issue stay at home orders has bubbled up and been tamped down in recent weeks. Reynolds had seemed to put the matter to rest during a news conference on March 26, saying the decision rested with her.
But the question surfaced again this week about whether special mayoral powers may come into play.
Hart has been urging Reynolds to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, without success. But as cases have mounted in Linn County — which has the most cases of COVID-19 in Iowa, despite being less than half the size of Polk County — so has pressure to act.
As Hart noted in an email, the city of Cedar Rapids has taken numerous steps to slow the spread of the virus that were difficult to take. The city has shut down public transit, closed the library and restricted public access to City Hall and other public buildings, among other actions.
The city has continued to look at and research additional actions to protect the public, he said.
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“Last Friday, after communicating with another Iowa mayor, I considered ordering people to stay at home under unspecified powers granted to mayors when there is a declaration of emergency,” he said.
He noted none of the other mayors were willing to do so.
Hart said the city will continue to do all it can — “within our powers” — to continue to enforce the existing orders about business closures and social distancing.
“Trying to take action that will not be enforceable or effective is not, in my opinion, in the best interest of Cedar Rapids,” Hart said.
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