CORONAVIRUS

Iowa City mayor issues citywide mask mandate: 'the time to act is now'

Johnson County officials, in calling for stronger response to pandemic, may issue uniform mask mandates

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague leads chants at the start of a listening post in Wetherby Park in Iowa City on June 3, 2020
Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague leads chants at the start of a listening post in Wetherby Park in Iowa City on June 3, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Mayor Bruce Teague has issued a proclamation requiring Iowa City residents to wear face masks as a preventive measure to the novel coronavirus pandemic, making Iowa City the second municipality to push back on state officials’ stance that local governments have no legal authority to issue such orders.

Effective immediately, individuals must wear a mask, face shield and other facial covering across their nose and mouth while in public settings across Iowa City, with some exceptions.

The announcement comes as the rate of new positive COVID-19 tests continues to rise across the state, totaling to more than 39,000 cases in Iowa and reaching record one-day totals not seen since May.

With thousands of students expected to return to the University of Iowa campus starting next month and K-12 school districts resuming in the fall, Teague stated in his announcement Tuesday “the time for action is now.”

“Simply put, by wearing a face mask, you are showing your fellow residents that you care about them,” Teague said in a Facebook Live video. “If we comply with this order, Iowa City will see the difference. We’re all in this together and that means we can all play our part.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Kim Reynolds said local governments have no legal authority to implement mask requirements because they are not consistent with her emergency orders in response to COVID-19, which don’t require Iowans to wear face coverings.

“Gov. Reynolds encourages Iowans who are interacting with others where social distancing is impossible to wear masks. But she does not believe a governmental mask mandate is appropriate,” Pat Garrett, spokesman for the governor’s office, said in an email Tuesday.

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Garrett also cited previous statement made by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller. In a memo on the Attorney General’s website, Miller states local officials “must act in a manner which is consistent with the orders and directions” from the governor and the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The Iowa City proclamation, which expires Sept. 15, states residents and visitors are required to wear face coverings in public places, including:

• Public transportation

• Outdoor spaces “if keeping six feet away from others is not possible”

• Indoor public settings, such as grocery stories, retails stores and other public settings “that are not one’s place of residence.”

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

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.

However, individuals who are exempt from the rules include:

• Those aged younger than two 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

» HOW TO WEAR A FACE MASK:

Here’s how and why to do it correctly

Those not adhering to the new mandate could be charged with a simple misdemeanor, according to the three-page proclamation, but Teague told The Gazette the city isn’t eager to issue citations. Instead, if the police are called, they would educate on the importance of wearing a mask.

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“It’s our full hope and intent we won’t have to issue any infractions because of this,” Teague said. “We want to educate and ensure that if there are any barriers to having masks, we make it so the barrier is no longer there.”

Other nearby cities are considering issuing similar proclamations mandating face masks across Johnson County in the hopes it would create a stronger, unified response to COVID-19, according to discussions during the Johnson County Joint Entities Meeting held via Zoom on Monday.

Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch asked local municipalities to take on resolutions requiring masks while in public, saying it was important officials be firm on the importance of this public health measure.

The draft language presented to local officials by the county public health department “can address pockets where public health measures are not being implemented,” said Sam Jarvis, community health manager at Johnson County Public Health.

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Coralville Mayor John Lundell already issued a proclamation this past Tuesday, asking individuals and businesses to “comply with recommended practices to reduce the virus spread,” which include use of face masks and face shields, as well as social distancing.

However, instead of issuing a mandate, the Coralville City Council decided earlier this month that it should simply be a strong encouragement to residents.

The mayor of Muscatine issued the first mask mandate in the state on July 5, setting a major pushback to Reynolds and Miller’s stance that local control does not supersede the governor’s emergency proclamation.

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But it soon lost its effectiveness after the Muscatine City Council prohibited any funds or city staff’s time to be used in regards to enforcing the proclamation.

However, questions remain on the scope of local control during the 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 Attorney General’s Office.

Teague cited sections within the Iowa Code and state constitution that reaffirm a municipality’s power to determine local affairs, as well as two Iowa Supreme Court rulings from 1990 and 1978 that allows a city to set standards “more stringent than those imposed by state law, unless a state law provides otherwise.”

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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