With COVID cases hitting ‘high’ mark, face masks are now required in Johnson County municipal buildings

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Johnson County now requires anyone entering a county-owned building to wear a face mask in response to the surge in new COVID-19 cases in Iowa caused by the highly contagious Delta variant. The county joins Linn County, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty, which had already enacted mask mandates for their municipal buildings.

The five members of the Board of Supervisors, all of whom were already wearing masks, voted unanimously to create the requirement during their formal meeting on Thursday evening. The requirement took effect immediately.

Employees are also required to wear face masks while in county buildings, unless they are at their desks and socially distanced from others. As Assistant County Attorney Lynn Rose explained while summarizing the mask resolution for the supervisors, that “was the practice we had in place under the prior mask mandate.”

The previous mandate had applied not only to county-owned buildings but also to all businesses open to the public in the unincorporated parts of the county. The supervisors voted to lift that mandate in May. That vote was forced after Gov. Reynolds signed a bill — HF 847 — into law on May 20 that stripped local governments of the power to create any mask mandate more extensive than whatever mandate the state government has in place, regardless of local conditions. Iowa, of course, has no mask mandate at the state-level and Reynolds has repeatedly said she had no intention of creating one.

That same bill also prohibited school districts from requiring students, staff or visitors in school buildings to wear masks. HF 847 was introduced on the final day of this year’s session of the Iowa Legislature, and was pushed through by Republican leaders. Reynolds signed the bill as soon as it was delivered to her office.

The one area city and county governments still have control over in terms masks is their own buildings, which is why municipalities have enacted mandates like the Johnson County Board of Supervisors voted for on Thursday.

The resolution supervisors approved expires on Oct. 12. Rose said the decision to include an expiration date was “based on the discussion with the public health experts.”

“They had explained that since masking is effective, if we can keep masking and increase our vaccination numbers, they’re hopeful that the curve on the Delta variant would start to drop. And this give us an opportunity to come back and reevaluate 60 days,” she told the supervisors.

The CDC recommends people wear masks in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status in areas experiencing either “substantial” or “high” rates of virus spread. The agency also recommends that everyone in school buildings wear masks regardless of vaccination status or current levels of virus spread in order to protect children under 12 and others who cannot be vaccinated.

The CDC’s latest county-level data indicates increased virus spread in Johnson County, moving the county from substantial spread to high. Currently, 94 of Iowa’s 99 counties are listed as having either substantial or high levels of COVID-19 on the CDC’s county-tracker map.

CDC Iowa County map Aug 13 2021

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