CORONAVIRUS

Linn County supervisors discuss issuing a face-mask mandate

Discussion comes after Johnson County issued a mandate last week

(Dreamstime/TNS)
(Dreamstime/TNS)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Linn County Board of Supervisors is considering issuing a proclamation to require face masks within the county — and may be asking mayors to sign on.

The discussion of a proclamation, brought to the table Monday during a work session by Supervisor Ben Rogers, was centered on the logistics of enforcement and legality.

“We’re getting a lot of questions as to what we can and cannot do,” Rogers said.

Lisa Epp of the Linn County Attorney’s Office, answered supervisors’ questions during the meeting.

Anything the board does covers unincorporated Linn County, Epp said.

“Linn County can do a proclamation if they would like,” Epp said. “It can only cover unincorporated areas . The proclamation can be made, but there’s no way to have any penalty or enforcement in a proclamation or resolution.”

Epps said cities have a “slighter edge” on being able to include enforcement within proclamations or resolutions.

Supervisor Brent Oleson proposed calling a joint meeting with the supervisors and Linn County Board of Health and inviting various mayors to sign on as supporters of a resolution encouraging private businesses and other entities where people congregate to require face masks.

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“I think it would have some power with different leaders saying the same thing,” Oleson said. “I think there’s power in that, getting all these groups together to do this resolution.”

Last week, Johnson County followed Iowa City in passing its own face mask mandate, requiring face coverings in public spaces. The county also did acknowledge that its mandate is not enforceable.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague issued a proclamation regarding face masks, contending he could do so because of emergency powers granted to mayors under Iowa Code. Teague has been the only mayor aside from Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson to issue a mask mandate.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has not issued a requirement for masks in any of her emergency proclamations for the state, though during her news conferences she has encouraged Iowans to wear masks. When the two mayors issued mask mandates, Reynolds said the mandates were in conflict with her statewide COVID-19 proclamations and therefore were invalid.

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker said he has been frustrated with the lack of action and said the board of health has authorized Linn County’s public health director to send a note to Reynolds, imploring her to issue a comprehensive mass mandate or grant local jurisdictions to do so.

“I agree with Supervisor Oleson that these appeals to our governor will be strengthened if we can have several localities on board with the same message,” Walker said.

Epps said since a proclamation wouldn’t have any penalty component, it’s hard to see what a challenge to it would look like.

“Anyone can file suit over anything, so it’s hard to speculate what anyone might do,” Epps said.

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As the discussion ended, the three supervisors decided the board should move on accomplishing issuing a proclamation this week.

“I would encourage that if we’re going to do this, we should do it this week sometime,” Oleson said. “I’d like our board, if we had the ability, I’d be for a temporary proclamation that requires masks in businesses but we don’t have that authority.”

Rogers added that the discussion was on the agenda to discuss next steps and layout what the board may want to do moving forward.

Walker said he also would like to see a proclamation done this week.

“There may be some disagreements on ultimately on what we have in the end,” Walker said.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors meets for its formal meeting at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Comments: (319) 398-8255; gage.miskimen@thegazette.com

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