CORONAVIRUS

Johnson County Board of Supervisors looks at mask mandate

Janelle Rettig
Janelle Rettig

IOWA CITY — The Johnson County Board of Supervisors signaled Wednesday it would join its elected colleagues in Iowa City in issuing a mandate requiring citizens to wear masks in public.

Board members said Wednesday during a work session that they have tried to urge mask use for months, but their words have not had the desired effect.

“We’ve so far encouraged,” Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass said. “We’ve encouraged until we’re blue in the face . We’ve encouraged and people are dying. We’ve encouraged and our (COVID-19) numbers are going up.”

Other members of the board were similarly steadfast in their commitment to issuing stronger language relating to mask use for the unincorporated portions of Johnson County.

“We have to take the lead,” Supervisor Royceann Porter said. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. These are people’s lives. It needs to be mandated.”

Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch sent a letter to local municipal leaders on Friday outlining the importance and science behind mask use in public, as well as actions that can be taken to help protect others.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague, in response, issued a citywide mask mandate on Tuesday, which requires the use of masks in public, with some exceptions.

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“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 on Tuesday.

“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.”

Koch told the board Wednesday he shared the same information with the Johnson County Board of Health last Wednesday. The board did not take action on the information but “fully supported it,” Koch said.

“This is just something that is not outside of (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” he said. “Neither is it outside of Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines.

“This does need to become the new normal and will help us to save each other.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds previously has said local governments do not have the authority to implement mask requirements.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig said she was fine with a legal challenge from the governor’s office.

“It’s a global pandemic and it requires leadership and we should be leading on it,” Rettig said. “If she wants to sue us, then she can sue us . Let’s just protect public health and let the chips lie where they lie.”

Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said a legal challenge likely would not come from the governor’s office, but a citizen challenging the county’s authority to issue a mask mandate. That citizen would have to show they were somehow harmed by the order, however.

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“That’s the consequence,” Lyness advised the board. “That’s the risk you take.”

Those not in compliance with Iowa City’s mask order would have a simple misdemeanor, though the city has said they want enforcement to be the last option.

The county’s proposed resolution does not include any potential punishment for non-compliance.

The board will vote on the measure during Thursday’s formal session.

“It feels like we’ve been encouraging people for months now and encouraging isn’t working,” Porter said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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