As a city council member, I took an oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Iowa. The Iowa Constitution’s Bill of Rights states in part, “Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of the people ...”.
The best way to honor that oath and save lives and livelihoods, especially those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 — Black people, Latinx, people of color, low-wage and essential workers — is to institute a face covering mandate. Per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, if 80 percent or more of people wore a face covering, we could crush transmission in six weeks.
Face coverings will save our economy, which cannot recover until and unless we beat COVID.
They will help our schools, families and children. The Iowa City Community School District voted this week to start the school year entirely online — not because they don’t want in-person instruction, but because it is imperative to keep people safe. This is a huge flashing red light.
How did we get here? In my view, those in government best suited to confront this health emergency did not do their job.
The federal government failed to nationalize the PPE and testing supply chains. And our governor has told us to learn to live with COVID and calls on Iowans to exercise personal responsibility, in the face of what is arguably the most serious health and safety threat in our lifetime. It is as if she had said to us: Who needs traffic laws and regulations? Let people drive whatever speed they want; leave intersections uncontrolled and lanes unmarked — we trust Iowans to act responsibly, although their choices will impact others.
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The COVID result: We now must quarantine even if we want to travel to Chicago and our passports are virtually worthless. Processed pork has greater freedom of movement than we do.
The responsibility to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our residents has devolved to local government. We did not ask for it — but we are public servants.
Mandating face coverings will support businesses whose owners may be reluctant to act alone, though they have the right to do so on private property. Enforcement can focus on signage and proprietors’ efforts to implement the requirement. Businesses can hand out PPE that governmental entities help fund and ask customers to leave (or use takeout) if they opt not to wear a face covering, even when offered gratis.
Governors and mayors across the country are issuing face covering mandates as their case numbers spike; major businesses are, too. The best time to act was a month ago when our numbers ticked up. The next best time is now.
The best way to act is together — united across cities and counties to crush the curve and halt transmission of COVID-19 so lives, livelihoods and businesses can resume, as has been done in so many places around the world. Yes, we can, too.
Janice Weiner serves on the Iowa City Council.