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‘We’ve got to do something’: Linn County officials, mayors call for local control over mandating face masks

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Karolina Grabowska

The Linn County Board of Supervisors and the Board of Health approved a proclamation during a joint meeting on Wednesday that calls on Gov. Kim Reynolds to allow cities and counties “to enact localized response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” including mandating and enforcing the use of face coverings.

The proclamation is backed by the mayors of Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha, Central City, Ely, Fairfax, Mount Vernon, Palo, Prairieburg, Springville and Robins.

“I believe [the proclamation] covers all the bases that we are trying to do to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our residents, whether we represent a more urban setting or rural setting; a county or a city; whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, I’m proud that we are united in this appeal to the governor for greater local control,” Supervisor Ben Rogers said during the meeting.

“It is our hope that this proclamation will move the governor to allow local elected officials the ability and the authority, if they so choose, to implement a mask mandate or enforcement mechanism. This is currently a tool that the governor is not using herself statewide.”

Both Reynolds and Attorney General Tom Miller have said local governments are not permitted to create face-covering mandates unless the governor authorizes them to do so. Iowa City, Muscatine, Mount Vernon and Johnson County have gone against this and have each taken their own approach to passing a mask mandate.

Iowa is one of two states with no mask requirement at all, according to Masks4All, a volunteer organization advocating for mask-wearing. Sixteen states have some mask requirements and the other 32 states require masks statewide.

“Other states are opening up and trending in the right direction,” Supervisor Stacey Walker said. “Other countries across the world are trending in the right direction and beginning to open up. Yet, here in Iowa, because we didn’t have a coordinated statewide approach, because our governor did not take this epidemic seriously, we find ourselves not even stuck in neutral but starting to backslide.”

Supervisor Brent Oleson said he doesn’t like wearing masks but does it because it’s “common sense.”

“I’m wearing it not for me. I’m wearing it for other people,” Oleson said.

“I’ve come to learn a lot more about this as a public official throughout this pandemic, and it’s frustrating to watch other people not want to learn or to actively oppose scientific studies and conclusions that seem so common sense,” he added.

All three supervisors brought up how schools across the state are reopening for the upcoming school year. Oleson, who has two children returning to school, said he’s really concerned.

“We are weeks away from our kids going back to school, and we’re acting like the press is making this all up, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Oleson said. “We’ve got to do something.”

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“Do it for your neighbors and your family,” Oleson said about mask-wearing. “Do it for other people that might have different situations. Make this ‘Iowa nice’ thing actually real, please.”

Rogers said the proclamation will be forwarded to Reynolds’ chief of staff. Rogers added that he is asking for the governor to respond to the proclamation “so that we have some clarification of whether or not she’s even going to entertain this.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, Linn County Public Health is reporting 2,188 confirmed cases and 87 deaths. There are 311 active cases in the county, according to LCPH.

The county has seen an increase of more than 200 cases per week during the last two weeks, and the seven-day moving average of reported cases is higher than it was during the county’s April surge, per LCPH data.


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