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It’s the law… sort-of

JoCo Supervisors pass face covering ordinance
Businesses and other venues across Johnson County have placed this decal on their doors urging patrons to wear a mask to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Now, it’s more than a request, it’s a requirement as the board of supervisors have passed a facemask regulation.

IOWA CITY– They’ve asked nicely. They’ve pleaded, appealing to your concern for your fellow man. Now, they’ve made it a regulation.
The Johnson County Supervisors unanimously approved a face covering regulation during their regular meeting Thursday, Aug. 6.
The Johnson County Board of Health discussed and approved the measure Tuesday, Aug. 4 (also by unanimous vote), and sent it to the supervisors for their consideration. The action, which took effect on Monday, Aug. 10, in conjunction with the notice being published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen (the daily newspaper of record for Johnson County), replaces an earlier resolution, which was unenforceable.
For the second go-around, and under advice from County Attorney Janet Lyness, the regulation went through the Board of Health (the first did not), which added enforcement provisions.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has resisted issuing a statewide mask mandate, despite frequent pleas from counties, cities and various groups and organizations including an interfaith alliance and physicians’ groups. Instead, Reynolds has been urging “personal responsibility” throughout the COVID-19 epidemic, and has expressed faith in Iowans wearing masks without the need for a mandate. The governor has also stated cities can only require masks if she grants them the authority, a decision some mayors such as Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague have disregarded, citing the home-rule authority the state constitution grants to cities.
On Tuesday, July 28, the City of North Liberty issued a public health initiative encouraging the use of masks, and advising businesses to institute a “must-wear” policy. The North Liberty initiative does not include any consequences for not donning a mask.
The resolution authorizing the new regulation cites Iowa Code Section 135.140, which defines a public health disaster as, “a disaster, which specifically involves an imminent threat of an illness that poses a high probability of widespread exposure to an infection agent that poses a significant risk of future harm to a large number of the affected population.” It also cites the continued “substantial widespread risk of infection,” particularly due to increasing daily rates of positive cases in Johnson County.
The state’s coronavirus information website showed 242 positive cases in Johnson County on Thursday, Aug. 6, down from a high of 545 the first week of July, but also showing another upward trend after a dip to 206 on Aug. 1. The previous high count was 273 on April 20.
The county resolution also cites Reynolds’ Proclamation of Public Health Disaster Emergency, from March 17 (which was extended several times and remains in effect), requiring businesses and gatherings to ensure social distancing, increased hygiene practices and other public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus consistent with the guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). The IDPH’s reopening guidance advises members of the public consider the use of face coverings when distancing is not possible in public places. Also, the resolution states, “A requirement that persons wear face coverings is consistent with the governor’s proclamation, the guidance of the IDPH, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).”
Under the regulation, every person in Johnson County shall wear a face covering when in public and when they cannot stay 6 feet away from others, as well as inside any indoor public setting such as grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, retail stores, schools and “other public settings that are not one’s place of residence and when you are with persons who do not live in the household.”
Use of a facemask is also required when outside and social distancing is not possible, as well as when using public transportation, taxis, ride share or carpooling.
A face covering is not required while traveling in a personal vehicle either alone or with household members, while exercising at a moderate or high intensity (jogging, biking, etc.), while at a bar or food establishment in the process of eating or drinking, while obtaining a service, which would require temporary removal of the mask, or when federal or state law prohibits wearing a face covering or requires removal.
Children under the age of 2 are exempt as are individuals with difficulty breathing, using oxygen, or on a ventilator. In addition, anyone who has been told by a medical, legal or behavioral health professional to not wear a face covering is also exempt.
Supervisor Janelle Rettig took issue with some claiming religious freedom as a reason to not don a mask (and questioning why bars are open, yet churches are still restricted) and cited a story where one person in a church allegedly infected up to 91 others, with some fatalities from being in church.
“A lot of people spend a significant amount of time together indoors singing, yelling, talking loudly, which spreads the virus,” she said.
“Everyone needs to put on a face covering. It’s just not too much to ask for,” said Rettig. “I get that people feel they have freedoms, but that also means they feel they have the freedom to drive drunk or to drive a bus on drugs.
“I mean, sometimes your freedom ends when you can kill other people,” she continued. “This isn’t about freedom, it’s about respecting your fellow humans.”
While the regulation states, “A violation shall constitute a simple misdemeanor,” and notes, “The following regulation is not intended to be punitive or stigmatizing and is in the best interest of health, safety and economic recovery;” and carries the minimum fine for a simple misdemeanor, local law enforcement officials said they wouldn’t be seeking to issue citations.
“I do not see our office taking any sort of enforcement stance on them,” said Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek. “I may see some public education opportunities at best. However, if someone goes into a business without a mask, and the business asks them to either mask up or leave and the person refuses, and then the business calls us we would treat it as a trespassing issue and advise the violator to leave the premises.”
“Our action will be the same as the sheriff’s office,” said North Liberty Police Chief Diane Venenga. “If we are called, we will do plenty of public education and ask for voluntary compliance. A trespassing citation will be used only as a last resort and they refuse to leave the premises.”
The regulation will sunset (expire) when the governor’s disaster emergency proclamation ends, or the supervisors cancel it.
“I’m doing this (voting in favor of the regulation) to save lives,” said Supervisor Royceann Porter.