CORONAVIRUS

Johnson County a step closer to mask mandate as health board develops regulations

Measure calls for fines for noncompliance

An unworn mask is discarded Tuesday in the parking lot of the Oakland Road Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazet
An unworn mask is discarded Tuesday in the parking lot of the Oakland Road Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The Johnson County Public Health Board agreed Tuesday evening on language for a countywide face covering regulation, paving the way for the Board of Supervisors to do the same.

During a special meeting, four members of the board made some amendments to a proposed measure related to requiring face coverings in public. One member of the health board was not present. The measure includes language outlining fines for noncompliance.

“The following ordinance is not intended to be punitive or stigmatizing and is in the best interest of the health, safety and economic recovery,” the proposed measure states. “A violation shall constitute a simple misdemeanor.”

The measure calls for first offenses to be punishable by the minimum fine for a simple misdemeanor, which is $105. Second and subsequent offenses could be punishable by fines over $800.

Approving the measures’ language is the first step in instituting a countywide policy.

» 2 MORE DEATHS: Johnson County reported two more COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday

The health board will meet next week to receive public comment on the proposed regulation and potentially approve it. The Board of Supervisors would then be able to adopt the regulation.

Last week, the supervisors adopted a measure calling for citizens to wear a mask in public following a similar action taken by the city of Iowa City. However, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness told the supervisors that powers of mayors in Iowa are different from those of supervisors, and their measure was “unenforceable.”

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Lyness told the supervisors that if they want an enforceable mandate, it would first need to be approved by the public health board.

The health board’s proposed measure calls for residents to wear masks in public settings including grocery and retail stores and pharmacies, as well as settings in which keeping 6 feet away is possible. The measure also calls for masks to be worn on public transportation and in a private car service.

Exceptions to the policy include when the person is alone, in a personal vehicle, while exercising and while seated at a bar or restaurant and in the process of eating or drinking. Those younger than 2 or with trouble breathing also would not be required to wear a mask.

The health board’s proposed ordinance would not become effective until approved by the Board of Supervisors.

On Monday, coalitions representing thousands of Iowa’s health care providers sent a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds asking her to issue a statewide face mask mandate for all Iowans.

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

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