Iowa City issues new mask mandate for schools, restaurants, UI campus and more

Mayor Bruce Teague reads his new mask order for all residents and visitors of Iowa City, due to the continued spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant. — City of Iowa City/video still

Mayor Bruce Teague issued a face mask mandate for Iowa City on Thursday evening, due to the ongoing surge in cases of COVID-19 driven by the spread of the Delta variant in Iowa.

“The Delta variant has reached our community, and as the number of positive cases continue to grow, we are now also faced with an influx of students arriving in our community from around the world, as well as the beginning of a new school year for our local youth,” Teague said, standing in the assembly room of the Senior Center, where the city council has held its meetings since returning to an in-person format.

All the members of the city council were standing with the mayor as he made his statement, literally, to show their support. Everyone was wearing a mask.

The new mandate goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, and is scheduled to last until Sept. 30.

Increased spread of COVID-19 had already led the city to require masks be worn in city-owned buildings. This new order is more extensive than the one Teague issued as COVID cases spiked in Johnson County in July, and included both public school buildings and University of Iowa academic buildings and business offices.

Every Person in the City of Iowa City must wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth when in public places as follows:

• In public, as opposed to being in one’s place of residence, when one cannot stay six (6) feet away from others

• Inside any indoor public settings, for example, but not limited to:

  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Hardware stores
  • Retail stores
  • Restaurants and bars
  • Public school buildings
  • Government buildings
  • University of Iowa academic buildings and business offices
  • Houses of worship
  • Movie theaters

• Outside, if keeping six feet away from others is not possible

• Using public transportation or private car service (including taxis, ride share, or carpooling)

The mandate has the following exceptions.

Those who are exempt from wearing a face covering:

• Persons younger than 2 years old due to the risk of suffocation
• Anyone with trouble breathing, on oxygen or ventilator
• Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or others unable to remove a face covering without assistance
• Anyone who has been told by a medical, legal, or behavioral health professional not to wear a face covering
• Anyone actively engaged on a public safety role, including but not limited to law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency response personnel.

Places and times when persons are exempt from wearing a face cover:

• While traveling in personal vehicle alone or with household members
• While alone or in presence of only household members
• While exercising at moderate or high intensity, e.g. jogging or biking
• While seated at food establishment in the process of eating or drinking
• While obtaining a service that would require temporary removal of a person’s face covering
• When federal or state law prohibits wearing of a face covering or requires the removal of the face covering

Teague said he was relying on the authority provided by the home rule provision of state law, which allows a mayor to take “extraordinary measures to protect the public health and safety” when a civil emergency has been declared. Immediately before issuing the mask mandate, Teague issued a proclamation of civil emergency for Iowa City due to the high level of COVID-19 spread.

It is the same authority Teague relied on to issue the mask mandate in July, even though Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said cities lacked such authority to create mandates unless specifically granted by the governor. Neither Reynolds nor Miller took any action to challenge Iowa City’s previous mask mandate, which was in force until May 18.

But since the previous mask mandate, the Iowa Legislature passed HF 847, which Reynolds singed into law in May. The bill made the following change to home rule authority.

A city shall not adopt an ordinance, motion, resolution, or amendment, or use any other means, that requires the owner of real property to implement a policy relating to the use of facial coverings that is more stringent than a policy imposed by the state.

Until Teague’s action on Thursday, it was widely assumed that change meant it was impossible for a city to have a mask mandate if the state doesn’t. (The bill imposed the same restriction on county governments, and stripped school boards of the authority to require masks in school buildings.)

HF 847 does not include any penalty for a city that creates a mask mandate stricter than a state mandate, and does not specify who has legal standing to challenge a city mask mandate in court.

The governor’s spokesperson issued a statement on Thursday night, after Teague proclaimed the new mask mandate.

“It’s against the law and it’s not enforceable,” the spokesperson said. “COVID-19 has been around for over a year, Iowans know how to protect themselves and their families.”

Teague did not mention HF 847, or even Reynolds’ repeated rejection of calls from public health experts, the general public and the federal government to allow mask mandates. Instead, the mayor focused on the need for people to work together to ensure each other’s health and safety.

“We want everyone in the city of Iowa City to know that we are doing these extraordinary measures to ensure that we all get out of this COVID pandemic together,” Teague said after issuing the new mandate. “We are in this together, and the City of Iowa City, the councilors and the staff stand in full solidarity in saying, ‘Please follow this order of wearing a mask, as has been cited.’”