CORONAVIRUS

Linn County leaders call on Kim Reynolds to allow local control for mask mandates

Supervisors, Board of Health and mayors came together to issue proclamation.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives to update the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tues
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds arrives to update the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in Urbandale, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Underscoring calls from public officials and medical professionals for mandatory mask policies, Linn County leaders issued a proclamation Wednesday calling on Gov. Kim Reynolds to allow local control of issuing the rules.

During a joint Linn County Board of Supervisors and Board of Health meeting, the proclamation was finalized and sent to Reynolds.

It calls for the governor to modify her emergency proclamation to “enable local county and municipal jurisdictions to enact localized responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as legally enforceable restrictions on the activity and actions of persons who do not wear face coverings when the use of such face coverings may protect lives and public health.”

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Linn County mayors also signed on to the proclamation in support of the county’s stance.

“Whether we represent urban or rural settings, or we’re Democrats or Republicans, we are united in this appeal for greater local control,” said Supervisor Ben Rogers. “The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for Linn County.”

The Republican governor has urged Iowans to wear masks in public but has said she will not require it. Both she and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office say local officials do not have the legal authority to issue mask mandates, though several have anyway.

On Monday, the Mount Vernon City Council approved a mask mandate for the city. In recent weeks, Johnson County, Iowa City and North Liberty have enacted or taken steps to enact mask mandates.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Linn County had seen 2,163 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the fourth highest in the state behind Polk, Woodbury and Black Hawk counties. Since the pandemic was confirmed here, 87 Linn County residents have died as a result of the virus.

Supervisor Stacey Walker said Iowa is not moving in the right direction to address the persistent spread.

“Other states are opening up and trending in the right direction, other countries,” Walker said. “Here in Iowa, because we didn’t act, because we didn’t have a coordinated statewide approach, because our governor didn’t take this pandemic seriously, we find ourselves in a landslide. And now, as we approach the school year, teachers and parents are now facing impossible decisions.”

Supervisor Brent Oleson reiterated the importance of wearing a mask and told of his frustrations in the pandemic.

“I have a mask. I don’t like to wear them,” Oleson said. “Maybe some of you don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like being told what to do. I wear my mask in this building. I wear it in the stores. A lot of this is common sense. I’ve come to learn a lot more about this as a public official throughout this pandemic and it’s frustrating to watch other people not want to learn or actively oppose scientific studies. … I’m not wearing it for me, I’m wearing it for other people.”

Oleson also shared his fears of being a father with children set to return to school this fall.

“We are weeks away from kids going back to school and we are acting like the press is making all this up and that’s further from the truth,” Oleson said. “We’ve got to do something. … Do it (wear a mask) for your neighbors and your family. Do it for other people who might have different situations than you. Make this ‘Iowa Nice’ thing an actual thing, please.”

On July 29, hundreds of Iowa doctors sent Reynolds a letter urging her to require masks in public across Iowa. The Iowa chapter of the American College of Physicians sent her a statement about it on July 30.

Iowa voters agree with allowing local control of mask mandates, according to a Monmouth University poll.

The poll found that 73 percent of registered voters say individual towns and cities should be allowed to establish face mask rules that are stricter than statewide regulations. This includes 94 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents and 59 percent of Republicans.

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

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