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Iowa City is requiring face masks in city buildings again, as COVID-19 rates rise in Johnson County


Irving Weber dawns a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic in downtown Iowa City. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Face masks will be required in all city-owned buildings in Iowa City starting on Friday, regardless of visitors’ vaccination status.

“The decision to require that masks be worn in City facilities was made for the health and safety of visitors to public facilities and for the staff who serve them,” the city said in a statement. “All City buildings remain open to the public with the mask policy in effect.”

Iowa City is following the latest CDC advice on face masks. On July 28, the agency released revised COVID-19 mitigation guidance, recommending that even fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors in public areas with “high” or “substantial” rates of virus spread. The change in due to the dominance of the Delta variant.

CDC data shows that fully vaccinated people infected with Delta can spread the virus to others, and breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated individuals, while still rare, have increased.

The most recent update to the CDC’s county-level COVID-19 data tracker lists 90 of Iowa 99 counties as having substantial or high virus spread. That update moved Johnson County’s status from moderate spread to substantial.

On Tuesday, Cedar Rapids began requiring everyone entering city-owned buildings to wear face masks. Linn County is currently listed as having a high rate of virus spread, according to the CDC.

Although Iowa City and Cedar Rapids can require people to wear masks inside city-owned buildings, neither can create city-wide mask mandates. On May 20, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into a law a bill making it illegal for cities or counties to create mask mandates more stringent than whatever mandate the state government has in place. Iowa, of course, has no state-level mask mandate, and the governor has made it clear she has no intention of creating one. The same bill also made it illegal for school boards to require students, staff or visitors wear masks in school buildings, even though children under the age of 12 still cannot be vaccinated.

In a written statement issued shortly after the CDC published its updated mask guidance, Reynolds said the recommendation for fully vaccinated people to wear masks when indoors in public settings is “not grounded in reality or common sense.”

“I am proud that we recently put new laws in place that will protect Iowans against unnecessary government mandates in our schools and local governments,” the governor’s statement concluded. “As I have throughout this pandemic, I trust Iowans to do the right thing.”

The CDC COVID-19 data tracker map for Iowa counties, Aug. 5, 2021.

Last month, the Iowa Department of Public Health changed its policy regarding publicly reporting COVID-19 data, switching from daily updates to weekly updates issued on Wednesdays. According to this week’s update, 3,570 more Iowan were confirmed as having the virus during the seven days since July 28. During that same time period, IDPH reported another 10 deaths from the virus.

At least 6,193 Iowans have died from COVID-19, according to IDPH.

As the Des Moines Register noted, Iowa averaged 510 new cases a day during the last seven-day reporting period, which is higher than the daily average over the same period in 2020, when the state was averaging 463 new case a day.

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IDPH reported a total of 201 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 on Wednesday, an increase of 28 percent since the previous week, when the department reported 157 hospitalized patients. It is the first time since April 23 that hospitals had more than 200 COVID-19 patients.


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