COVID-19: Johnson County surge continues, mayor of Muscatine says she will issue a mandatory face mask order

In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation for individuals to wear cloth face coverings in public settings to slow the spread of COVID-19. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The surge of new COVID-19 cases in Johnson County that began on June 17 continues, as the Iowa Department of Public Health reported another 17 of the county’s residents tested positive for the virus during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. Saturday. The county has seen 18 consecutive days of double-digit increases in cases.

Prior to the current surge, the longest such was a six-day period that began on April 5.

IDPH reported on Saturday that, statewide, another 567 Iowans tested positive for COVID-19 during the 24-hour period ending at 10 a.m. Among those new cases were 14 residents of Linn County. The department also reported another person has died from the virus, bringing the state’s death toll to 721.

The state’s total confirmed cases stands at 30,922.

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 Saturday was 8.1 percent. In Linn County, the positivity rate was 3.7 percent. Johnson County had a positivity rate of 5.5 percent.

Officials in both Johnson and Linn counties have been encouraging residents to wear face coverings — face masks, face shields or both — as a way of protecting themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19. City and county officials, however, do not have the legal authority to order people to wear face coverings, according to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. Only the governor has the power to do so, although Gov. Reynolds could give municipal officials the freedom to do it. Reynolds has repeatedly said there is no need to order people to wear face coverings, because she trusts Iowans to do the right thing.

On Thursday, the mayor of Muscatine said she is not waiting for the governor to act.

Mayor Diana Broderson said she would issue a proclamation on Sunday that requires face coverings to be worn in public in Muscatine.

“I am very worried about not only the health of each individual in Muscatine, but our economic health as well,” Broderson told the Des Moines Register. “I want to do everything that we can to avoid closing things down again.”

Muscatine County has had a total of 625 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the virus was first detected in Iowa in March, according to IDPH statistics as of 10 a.m. on Saturday. Forty-four residents have died from the virus. After a slowing of virus activity in the county at the beginning of June, new cases began to increase again during the second half of the month.

Broderson said the 1968 municipal home rule amendment to the Iowa Constitution allows mayors to make decisions, like wearing face coverings, for their cities during an emergency. The Iowa Attorney General maintains that the mayor cannot not require public measures beyond what the governor specifies in her public health emergency orders.

“The governor has issued proclamations dealing with PPE, and her proclamations order Iowans to follow public health measures consistent with guidance issued by IDPH. IDPH guidance on cloth face coverings does not require their use,” Lynn Hicks, communications director for Attorney General Tom Miller, told Iowa Public Radio. “Therefore, a local regulation requiring masks would not be consistent with the governor’s declarations.”

Broderson said she does not believe her proclamation would be inconsistent with those issued by the governor.

The mayor will introduce her proclamation during a news conference at Muscatine City Hall at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

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