Mayor Bruce Teague said on Monday that he is preparing to issue an order requiring face coverings be worn in public in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa City.
Teague announced his intention during Monday afternoon’s Joint Entities meeting, a Zoom meeting of representatives from most of the local governmental bodies in Johnson County, including mayors of the county’s cities, members of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the Iowa City Community School District, and county public health officials.
During the meeting, public health officials discussed a resolution they have presented to local governments that encourages everyone to wear face coverings in public. All the participants in the meeting expressed support for the measure.
“I appreciate the resolution request,” Teague said, but added he felt it was important to do more.
Iowa City will soon see an influx of students as classes resume at the University of Iowa, Teague noted, and Johnson County has seen a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases reported daily since mid-June. The mayor said he was also concerned the testing currently being done is not accurately measuring the extent of virus activity in the county.
Teague said he and the members of the Iowa City Council are convinced “that cities have to consider for themselves what do they want to do during this time of a public health crisis.”
“We’ve heard from the governor and the AG — the attorney general — saying that we don’t have the power” to mandate the use of face coverings in public places, Teague acknowledged. But the mayor said he believes home rule provisions of state code and the Iowa Constitution “gives authority to the mayor to govern by proclamation during health crises.”
So, on 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, “I’m going to do an order for masks,” Teague said.
“Because it is critical that we do what we can to protect our citizens within Iowa City. I would urge any other mayors that are on this call to do the same thing for their cities.”
Teague is relying on the same legal justification Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson was when she issued a proclamation mandating face covering in her city on July 5. Both Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office said in response to Broderson’s proclamation that the mayor had exceeded her authority and her proclamation was invalid.
“We don’t believe that they can, and that is in conjunction with the attorney general,” Reynolds said during a press conference the day after Broderson issued her mandate. “We believe that when my public health disaster proclamation is in effect, unless the local government’s declaration or proclamation is consistent with the state proclamation then it’s not appropriate or it doesn’t go into effect.”
Reynolds was asked during that press conference if she was considering issuing an order for people to wear face coverings. The governor said it was a complicated matter because there are “so many other factors that go into it.”
Reynolds asked rhetorically what happens if people don’t keep cloth face masks clean or use them improperly. “Who’s going to monitor that?” she said.
Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have either statewide or local requirements for people to wear face coverings in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.
During the Joint Entities meeting on Monday, Dr. Daniel Dekima, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine, talked about the importance of face coverings in decreasing the spread of COVID-19.
“I think that at least the scientific and public health and epidemiological questions about face coverings have been settled,” Dekima said.
The doctor said studies have shown “mandating face coverings results in a decline of daily COVID case rate that begins about five days after these mandates go into effect” and the decline increases the longer the mandate remains in place.
“My understanding is that even areas that have very good adherence to face coverings, the rate of face covering use goes up by 20 to 30 percent in absolute terms when a mandate is put in place,” Dekima said.
The Muscatine face covering order is currently not being enforced. On July 10, the Muscatine City Council voted 5-2 to prohibit any city funds or any city staff time being used for to enforce Broderson’s proclamation.
Despite the vote, the mayor said she was not gong to revoke the proclamation.
“We are in the middle of a global pandemic, as you well know, and I listen to the health experts when it comes to the health and safety of all of us,” Broderson said.