CORONAVIRUS

Masks will be required in Johnson County, with fines issued for violators

Start date hasn't been set but could be as soon as Monday, Aug. 10

(Dreamstime/TNS)
(Dreamstime/TNS)

IOWA CITY — Johnson County supervisors have made clear they want county residents and visitors to mask up in public — and Thursday they declared they now have the authority to enforce the rule.

After two weeks ago approving what members acknowledged was a toothless resolution, the Board of Supervisors adopted a mask mandate that includes fines for violators.

“Everyone needs to put on a face covering,” said Supervisor Janelle Rettig. “It’s not too much to ask for. I get that people have their freedoms. ... Sometimes your freedom ends when you can kill other people. This is that case. This isn’t about freedom; it’s about respecting your fellow humans.”

In July, Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague issued a mandate requiring people to wear masks in public in the city, with some exceptions.

The Board of Supervisors was ready to follow suit a couple of days later, but Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness told the board their measure was “basically unenforceable” due to differences in powers granted to mayors and the county officials.

Lyness said a measure would be enforceable only if it were first adopted by the county health board, and then sent on to the supervisors for approval.

The Johnson County Public Health Board had a special meeting last week to agree on the language for such a measure and adopted it during a special meeting Tuesday. The board called on supervisors to do the same.

The supervisors on Thursday acknowledged that there are people the community opposed to a mask mandate.

Supervisor Royceann Porter compared the action with laws put in place to require seat belt use in cars, which also drew some opposition.

“I know there are people who are going to be upset with us and that’s OK,” Porter said. “We’re all going to get through this.”

The approved face covering mandate — which could go into effect as early as Monday when it is published in a local newspaper — calls for residents to wear masks in public settings and situations in which keeping 6 feet of distance is not possible. Masks are to be worn on public transportation and in private car services, the rules say.

While county officials have said the measure is not intended to be punitive, failure to comply is a potential simple misdemeanor with fines starting at $105.

Earlier this week, Linn County officials wrote to Gov. Kim Reynolds, imploring her to revise her emergency proclamation and give local officials the authority to adopt mask mandates in their communities.

Reynolds has called on Iowans to wear masks in public, but says she will not require it.

Both her office and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office have said local officials do not have the authority to enact mask mandates. But leaders in several Iowa communities have announced them nonetheless.

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

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