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Johnson County Board of Supervisors approves a mask mandate

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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 Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously at its meeting on Thursday to approve a Board of Health ordinance requiring the use of face coverings in public spaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

With certain limited exceptions, the ordinance requires anyone inside a building open to the public to wear a face covering when other people are present. People in public outdoor spaces will also be required to have a covering for their noses and mouths in situations where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said before the vote he had heard from many people regarding a mask mandate over the past month, and understood some of them oppose it.

“This is intended to help,” he said. “It’s not the intent to make life difficult or hard for anybody else.”

Sullivan noted that the use of face masks, like almost every other public issue, was being viewed through a “political lens” — “That you’re on my team or not on my team,” he said.

That was “really unfortunate,” Sullivan said, because the vast majority of public health experts advocate for the use of face coverings to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Supervisor Royceann Porter compared the face covering mandate to laws requiring the use of seat belts.

“It wasn’t something that people wanted, but once you started doing it, it was effective,” she said.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has consistently opposed calls for either a statewide order mandating face covering or allowing local governments to issue such orders. Both Reynolds and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller have asserted that local governments lack the authority to mandate face coverings without the governor’s permission.

But Iowa City has issued a mask mandate, after the city attorney determined that Iowa law allows mayors to create such mandates by proclamation during an declared public emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness has said a public health ordinance passed by the Board of Health and then approved by the Board of Supervisors is legally enforceable.

The ordinance will take effect after it is published in a newspaper of record, which should occur on Monday. Violations could result in citations being issued, although the supervisors stressed the point of the ordinance is to encourage people to wear face coverings, not penalize them. Still, the violations, if cited, will be simple misdemeanors, which can result in fines from $105 to $885.

“Everyone needs to put on a face covering, it’s not too much to ask for,” Supervisor Janelle Rettig said before the vote.

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The ordinance will remain in effect until both the governor’s public health proclamation and the Board of Supervisors’ declaration of a public health emergency expire.


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