‘The time for action is now’: Mayor Bruce Teague issues order requiring face coverings in Iowa City

Video still of Mayor Bruce Teague announcing a face covering mandate in Iowa City, July 21, 2020.

Effective immediately, almost everyone in Iowa City will be required to wear a face covering while in public, according to a proclamation issued on Tuesday by Mayor Bruce Teague.

“With more than 30,000 college students set to return to Iowa City in August, the time for action is now,” Teague said in livestreamed address during which he read the proclamation. The mayor was wearing a clear plastic face shield as he spoke.

Teague is the second Iowa mayor to issue a proclamation requiring face coverings in public as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19. On July 5, Mayor Diana Broderson of Muscatine issued a proclamation similar to Teague’s, but four days later the Muscatine City Council rendered that proclamation moot by voting to prohibit any city funds or city employee time to be used to enforce the proclamation.

During a meeting of elected leaders in Johnson County on Monday where the mayor first publicly said he’d issue the proclamation, Teague indicated he had support from the Iowa City Council for his action.

The proclamation lays out the statutory authority the city is relying on. In addition to citing sections of the Iowa Code that allow a mayor to “govern a city by proclamation” if it is determined a “time of emergency or public danger exists.” The proclamation also cites Iowa Supreme Court cases on city powers, including the court’s 1990 decision in the case of City of Des Moines v. Gruen.

In that case, the court ruled that cities can impose standards “more stringent than imposed by state law, unless a state law provides otherwise.” This principle was later written into state code by the Iowa Legislature: “An exercise of a city power is not inconsistent with a state law unless it is irreconcilable with the state law.”

In response to Teague’s proclamation, a spokesperson for Gov. Kim Reynolds said, “Gov. Reynolds encourages Iowans who are interacting with others where social distancing is impossible to wear mask. But she does not believe a governmental mask mandate is appropriate.”

Both Gov. Reynolds and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller claim that cities are not permitted to create face covering mandates because the governor’s public health emergency proclamation does not impose such a requirement or explicitly empower cities to do so. But none of the governor’s proclamations prohibit the wearing of face coverings or address whether cities have the power to pass their own ordinances requiring them.

According to proclamation issued Tuesday, face masks or shields that cover both the nose and mouth must be worn “in all public spaces.” Public spaces specified in proclamation include:

• Grocery stores

• Pharmacies

• Hardware stores

• Retail stores

• Outside if keeping six feet away from others is not possible

• Public transportation or private car service (including taxis, ride share or car pooling)

The proclamation doesn’t just apply to people, it also to businesses.

“No business open to the public may provide service to a customer or allow a customer to enter without the customer wearing a face covering,” the city states. “Businesses must post signs at the entrance of their business to instruct customers of the legal obligation to wear face covering.”

The proclamation does allow for certain exemptions.

Places and times where people are exempt from a face covering include:

• When alone or in presence of only household members

• Traveling in personal vehicle alone or with household members

• When jogging or biking outside

• While at a restaurant in the process of eating or drinking

• While obtaining a service that requires temporary removal or a face coverings, such as a dentist or doctor visit

• When federal or state law prohibits a face covering

Exceptions to the mask mandate include:

• Anyone two-years-old or younger

• Anyone with trouble breathing, on oxygen or ventilator

• Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or others unable to remove a face covering without assistance

• Anyone who has been told by a medical, legal, or behavioral health professional not to wear a face covering

• Anyone actively engaged on a public safety role, including but not limited to law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency response personnel

Anyone violating the face covering mandate can be cited by Iowa City Police officers. The violation is a simple misdemeanor and punishable by a fine. According to the proclamation, “Citation will be a last resort to obtain compliance.”

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The mandate is scheduled to remain in effect until Sept. 15.

Mayor’s Order on Masks/Face Coverings

Mayor Bruce Teague will address a new order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement will begin at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, 2020.

Posted by The City of Iowa City Government on Tuesday, July 21, 2020

“The scientific data and evidence is clear: face coverings and masks are a safe, effective way to get cases numbers down,” Teague said during his livestream.

The mayor said wearing face coverings will “help save lives, jobs, businesses, schools and help our community regain some sense of normalcy, as we stop transmission of this novel disease.”

He concluded his remarks by saying, “Simply put, by wearing a face mask you are showing your fellow residents that you care about them. If we comply with this order, Iowa City will see the difference.”

“We’re all in this together, and that means that we all can play our part.”