The Linn County Board of Supervisors will hold a joint meeting with the county’s Board of Health on Wednesday to discuss a proclamation calling on Gov. Kim Reynolds to allow local officials to mandate face masks.
County mayors have been asked to sign onto the proclamation, and most mayors are supportive of it, Supervisor Ben Rogers said at the board’s Monday work session. Rogers said the mayors supporting the proclamation include the mayors of Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha, Marion and other surrounding municipalities.
“This proclamation will, hopefully, show that all the municipal leaders in one county are absolutely serious about their citizens wearing masks,” Rogers said. “Really the base of the proclamation is requesting authority from the governor for municipal governments to be able to vote, to be able to authorize the ability to mandate and enforce a mask policy if their council so chose.”
“We are a diverse group of municipal leaders,” Rogers added. “… There are certainly Republican and Democratic mayors who are all saying we all recognize the need for local control and authority in helping to curb the spread of COVID.”
The proclamation is also an attempt to help educate the public on the spread of the virus, Rogers said. The supervisors began discussing and drafting the proclamation last week.
Linn County Public Health is reporting 2,067 total confirmed cases in the county and 87 deaths, as of Monday afternoon. According to LCPH, there are 321 active cases. The county has seen an increase of more than 200 cases per week during the last two weeks.
The seven-day moving average of reported cases is higher than it was in April, according to LCPH.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has said that she wants to leave it up to individual Iowans to decide if they will wear masks.
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 and Johnson County have each passed their own mask mandates. Iowa City says its mandate is legally enforceable — and neither the governor nor the attorney general has challenged it yet — but Johnson County’s is not, although the Johnson County Board of Supervisors will vote on an enforceable version of the resolution this week. Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson’s proclamation was rendered moot after the Muscatine City Council voted to prohibit using city funds or employee time to enforce the proclamation.
The Mount Vernon City Council passed a mask resolution at their meeting Wednesday evening. Mount Vernon is a town in Linn County of more than 4,000 people. It is also home to Cornell College, which has about 1,000 students.
The resolution requires people in Mount Vernon to wear masks in nearly all public places. The resolution is very similar to what Iowa City passed, but the one passed by the Mount Vernon City Council is not enforceable.
“This resolution is not enforceable at the current state, but it does set forth guidelines for mask use,” City Administrator Chris Nosbisch said, adding that the resolution is “more symbolic than anything.”
Nosbisch said the resolution opens the possibility of adding ordinances that would then allow for the enforcement of mask-wearing.
The resolution requires people to wear a mask in the following locations:
• In public, as opposed to being in one’s place of residence, when once cannot stay six feet apart from others
• Inside of any indoor public settings, for example, but not limited to: grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, retail establishments.
• Outside, if keeping six feet away from others is not possible
• Using public transportation or private car service
The resolution also includes who is exempt and when it is not necessary to wear a face covering.
Lisa Epp of the Linn County Attorney’s Office told the supervisors last week that cities have “a slighter edge” than counties. If the supervisors were to approve a face mask mandate, it would only cover rural unincorporated parts of the county and it would not be enforceable, Epp said.
“Cities, perhaps, are taking a different viewpoint on that, and I won’t comment on whether I think their mandates would survive legal challenge, but they do have a code section … that counties don’t have an analogous section that gives [cities] just a slighter edge on some sort of police power,” Epp said.
Supervisor Stacey Walker said on Monday that he is hopeful that the county’s proclamation “will be a powerful message that our governor will actually listen to.” He added that Linn County mayors coming together so quickly further suggests how important this issue is.
“Hopefully, when this proclamation or declaration is passed, the governor will pay attention that you have overwhelming majority of leaders in Linn County and the greater Linn County area, including our neighbors to the south in Johnson County, trying to do everything they can to protect their residents, trying to do everything they can to head off this very dangerous virus,” Walker said.
Wednesday’s joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors and the Board of Health will begin at 11 a.m. Board of Supervisors meetings are streamed on the county’s Facebook page.