COVID-19: Johnson County reports 27 new cases, Muscatine mayor receives death threats over face mask mandate

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Johnson County saw its 22nd consecutive day of double-digit increases in COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, as the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 27 county residents tested positive for the virus during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m.

Since the current surge began on June 17, there have been 676 new cases reported in the county. During the 22-day period before the surge began — May 25 to June 16 — there were 61 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Johnson County.

In the four months since the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Johnson County on March 8, a total of 1,352 county residents have tested positive.

Statewide, IDPH reported another 414 Iowans tested positive between 10 a.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. Wednesday, including 14 residents of Linn County. The new cases push the state’s total number of cases to 32,343.

For statistical purposes, IDPH considers anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 to be recovered after 28 days, unless the department is informed otherwise. According to IDPH, 25,686 Iowans have now recovered from COVID-19, including 837 residents of Johnson County.

IDPH also reported another seven deaths from the virus on Wednesday morning, increasing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 732.

The statewide positivity rate — the percentage of people being tested who were confirmed as having COVID-19 — for the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. on Wednesday was 7.6 percent. In Linn County, the positivity rate was 4.4 percent. Johnson County had a positivity rate of 9.5 percent.

During the Iowa City Council work session on Tuesday, City Manager Geoff Fruin said city facilities will remain closed to the public due to the current increase in COVID-19 cases.

“We had hopes of reopening City Hall and some other facilities earlier this summer, and with the uptick in cases we have decided to keep things buttoned up,” Fruin told the council. “And we do not have any plans to reopen City Hall or our rec centers at this time.”

Fruin said that city departments were still providing services online and other phone, and the Iowa City Public Library is now offering curbside book pick-up service for library card holders.

During the work session, Mayor Bruce Teague said he had heard from many Iowa City residents asking him to issue an order requiring face coverings in public as way to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

“This is something that I continue to take under consideration at this time,” Teague said, before reiterating the importance of wearing face masks and shields, as well as practicing social distancing and proper hygiene.

Since Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson issued a proclamation on Sunday requiring people to wear face coverings in public, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office has restated its opinion that city and county officials cannot require face coverings because Gov. Kim Reynolds did not do so in her public health emergency proclamation. Broderson said she believes state law and the Iowa Constitution gives her the authority to act during an emergency to protect the safety of the public in her city.

People opposed to the mayor’s order loudly booed and shouted during the Sunday press conference during which she announced the face covering mandate, and some opponents have gone further. The Muscatine Journal reported on Tuesday that police are investigating death threats against the mayor and Muscatine Police officers over the mandate.

“It’s amazing to think people can behave this way over being asked to wear a mask,” Broderson told the Journal.

Requiring face coverings was also discussed during the Coralville City Council work session on Tuesday.

Councilmembers expressed frustration with their lack of legal authority to take action at the city level as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Johnson County.

City Administrator Kelly Hayworth told the council that according to both the Iowa Attorney General and the Johnson County Attorney, because of the governor’s decision not to allow local officials to require face coverings in public, it cannot go further than issuing a “strongly worded proclamation” encouraging people to do so.

The council plans to issue such a proclamation. It is also considering requiring people to wear face coverings inside city buildings.

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