Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague issued a proclamation this week requiring city residents and visitors to wear face masks in public places in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We think Teague made the right call to protect the health of his constituents, and other municipalities should follow.
Teague’s city is faced with the likely return of thousands of students from across the nation to the University of Iowa next month. Public schools also will be restarting, potentially in-person under a gubernatorial edict. He and other local leaders across Iowa are left to deal with the consequences of the state’s uneven and misguided pandemic response, with state officials rushing to reopen businesses and venues against the advice of health experts.
The result was predictable. Case numbers in Iowa are now rising, including a significant jump in Johnson County. A mask requirement is an important, common-sense tool in controlling keeping the virus in check at a critical moment.
Yes, we understand that Gov. Kim Reynolds and Attorney General Tom Miller say they don’t believe local leaders have the authority to issue a mask order. The Iowa City order and others may spark legal challenges. But as the state’s strictly voluntary approach to mask wearing clearly isn’t working as Iowa becomes a national COVID-19 hot spot. We believe local orders are worth the risk.
Teague’s order shows that the city has the back of scores of Iowa City businesses, venues and other entities that are requiring the use of masks. The order includes smart exemptions for people eating, exercising or who have special health issues precluding mask usage.
Although violating the order is a simple misdemeanor, we were glad to hear Teague insist that education will be the primary goal, not fines or incarceration. The last thing we need at this moment is a heavy-handed approach that could lead to unequal enforcement or confrontations with law enforcement.
Teague and city leaders are simply doing what needs to be done in a crisis, namely using the tools available to mitigate the damage. Mask wearing can save lives. Reynolds should drop her objections and permit local leaders to lead.
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