Linn County Supervisors approve mask mandate, close most county buildings

A face mask discarded in Coralville, Sept. 24, 2020. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

On Wednesday, the Linn County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted in favor of requiring individuals in the county to wear a face covering when out in public.

The regulation, which was approved by the Board of Health earlier this week, takes effect on Thursday. It requires residents and individuals visiting Linn County to wear face coverings in public when social distancing is not possible. Face coverings will be required in all indoor public settings, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, retail stores and schools.

There are various exemptions to the regulation, including when traveling in a vehicle alone, exercising, eating or drinking at a restaurant or obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face covering. Also exempted from the regulation are children under the age of 2 or anyone who has been told by a medical professional not to wear a face covering.

Not complying with the regulation could result in a citation for a simple misdemeanor. A citation could result in a fine of $65 to $625.

Linn County’s regulation follows the language that Johnson County used for its mandate earlier this year and goes beyond the limited mask mandate Gov. Kim Reynolds announced on Monday night during a televised speech.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors first discussed a face-covering resolution in late July and revisited issuing a face-covering mandate earlier this month in light of recent spikes of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county and a surge in hospitalizations.

As of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Linn County Public Health was reporting 12,239 confirmed cases of the virus in the county and 167 deaths.

Due to the surge in cases, LCPH’s Community Health Manager Tricia Kitzmann said public health is “starting to fall behind” with contact tracing. Linn County residents who test positive for the virus are encouraged to fill out a secure COVID-19 investigation form to help the county’s contact tracers.

We used to be able to keep up with the number of cases coming in,” Kitzman told the board. “When we were notified, we were able to call … in less than 24 hours when we were notified of a positive case and collected their contact information. We are not able to do that now.”

“We are right now frantically hiring and training additional contact tracers.”

While Linn County is a hotspot, the entire state is experiencing “exponential and unyielding” spread, according to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report.

Iowa had the third-highest rate of new cases of the virus in the country last week, according to the report. For the first time, all 99 counties were listed in the task force’s red zone, meaning they all had more than 101 or more new cases per 100,000 residents last week.

Eight Linn County residents voiced their opposition to the face-covering mandate during the board’s public comment period. A number of individuals also pushed back on the mandate when the Board of Health was considering it earlier this week.

On Wednesday, the mask mandate opponents asserted that requiring face coverings violates their freedom as Americans. They also falsely claimed there are no studies showing masks as effective.

Various research studies and public health experts — including Dr. Anthony Fauci — have backed the effectiveness of mask use, when worn correctly. One research study focused on a hair salon in Missouri where two hairstylists were positive with COVID-19. The stylists spent at least 15 minutes with 139 clients. Everyone was wearing a face covering, and no clients were known to be infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended the use of face coverings in early April to slow the spread of the virus.

Prior to the board’s vote, Supervisor Walker called on individuals to respect science and take a small action to help curb the spread while also protecting other residents.

“The crude reality that many are choosing not to accept is that science is not partisan,” Walker said. “While the coronavirus presented many unknowns, one thing is clear — masks help. Masks help mitigate the spread of the virus, but they are not a panacea, and we all recognize that.”

Supervisor Ben Rogers said that passing a mandate is not something the board takes lightly but believes that requiring face coverings “is in the collective best interest of our community.”

“I fully support this mask mandate. It is the least people can do to try to prevent the spread of COVID,” Rogers added.

Supervisor Brent Oleson said he doesn’t like government mandates, but it “seems to be the only thing that works.” Oleson has previously resisted a mask mandate due to questions of authority but recently changed his mind.

“Our leaders, particularly our governor, have said that they trust Iowans to do the right thing and have resisted to do anything constructive in this pandemic to protect vulnerable Iowa populations,” Oleson said. “I’m done waiting for people to do the right thing because they simply won’t do it. Some have made this political or about something altogether different than actual public health.”

Jean Oxley Public Service Center, 935 2nd St SW, Cedar Rapids. Photo taken on April 20, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The Board of Supervisors also voted on Wednesday to close most county buildings to the public again due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. The building closure will be in effect starting Thursday and last until “public health conditions improve,” according to a news release.

Staff will continue to work to provide services to the public. Residents can reach the departments they need by phone, email, mail and drop boxes outside county buildings.

The following buildings will be closed to the public:

• Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center, 935 2nd St. SW, Cedar Rapids

• Community Services Building (including DHS offices), 1240 26th Ave. Ct. SW, Cedar Rapids

• Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris Building, 1020 6th St. SW, Cedar Rapids (with the exception of the Child Development Center and Public Health clinic)

• Juvenile Detention Center (still providing services; visits will be virtual)

• Secondary Road Department, 1888 County Home Rd., Marion

• Wickiup Hill Learning Center, 10260 Morris Hills Rd., Toddville (scheduled outdoor programs will continue)

• Conservation lodges in Linn County parks

• LIFTS office is closed to the public but routes are still running

• Linn County Correctional Center

• Linn County Sheriff’s Office, 310 2nd Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids

The following buildings will remain open with some modifications:

• Linn County Child Development Center, 1020 6th St. SE, Cedar Rapids

• Public Health Clinic, 1020 6th St. SW, Cedar Rapids

• Linn County Courthouse, 51 3rd Ave. Bridge, Cedar Rapids

• Juvenile Justice Center, 834 2nd St. SW, Cedar Rapids

• Fillmore Building, 520 11th St. NW, Cedar Rapids

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