IOWA CITY — Johnson County is one step closer to enacting a countywide face mask mandate.
The Johnson County Public Health Board on Tuesday approved a resolution to enact a face mask regulation in the county. The board also agreed to present that regulation to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.
“The Johnson County Board of Health finds that COVID-19 poses a continuing and immediate threat to the public health of Johnson County, Iowa, residents and visitors,” the regulation reads.
A face mask measure has been in place in Johnson County since July. However, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness made it clear when the regulation was put in place by the supervisors that it was unenforceable due to limitations to the board’s authority.
Lyness told the board that a measure first would need to be enacted by the county health board.
The public health board did not comment extensively on the regulation during the Tuesday meeting that lasted less than 45 minutes, but it did hear from several members of the public.
Chris Arch, senior pastor at Good News Bible Church in Iowa City, questioned the timing of the ordinance and asked when it would sunset. He also called for churches and other religious institutions to be given “freedom of conscience” and allow to operate without masks similar to some other facilities.
“Bars and restaurants are being allowed to operate unmasked,” Arch said. “My question is, why shouldn’t we be allowed to also?”
Maureen Greer said she agreed with Arch’s comments and asked the board to consider the “unnecessary fear and incitement” caused by masks.
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“It’s inciting a fear and social distancing that is not health for any society,” Greer said, also noting masks make it difficult to identify perpetrators of crime.
But others spoke in favor of the regulation. Kim Bergen-Jackson, administrator at Oaknoll Retirement Residence, supported the measure on behalf of her “70- , 80- , 90- and 100-year-old friends who want to be here to live another year.”
“We can stop the virus if we work together,” Bergen-Jackson said.
The measure calls for residents to wear masks in public settings, on public transportation and in private car services and situations in which social distancing is not possible. Non-compliance with the regulation would be punishable by a simple misdemeanor.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the regulation during its Wednesday work session and could approve the measure as early as Thursday.
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