Muscatine Mayor Announces Mask Mandate, As Crowd Shouts In Opposition
The mayor of Muscatine has implemented a mask mandate in an effort to limit coronavirus exposure, at a time when other communities in eastern Iowa are seeing a spike in cases. Effective 6 a.m. on Monday July 6, residents will be required to wear a face covering “when in any indoor or outdoor public setting." Still, questions persist about the legal authority of local officials in Iowa to issue such orders.
“Every person in the City of Muscatine must wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth when in any indoor or outdoor public setting, including, but not limited to: [i]nside any building, including but not limited to, any business open to the public,” the ordinance reads in part.
Mayor Diana Broderson defended the order at a tense press conference on the steps of City Hall Sunday afternoon. A group of people gathered in opposition and repeatedly interrupted her and local health care experts, shouting down the speakers multiple times.
Opponents booed Broderson before she even began her remarks, chastising her as she removed her own mask to begin addressing the crowd.
She presented the order as a way to both protect public health and maintain viral transmission at levels that would allow local businesses to keep their doors open.
The public health department of Muscatine County supports all efforts that promote the widespread use of precautionary measures that we know to be effective in reducing the spread of infectious diseases. - Christy Roby Williams, director of Trinity Muscatine Public Health
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, as of Sunday, 635 Muscatine County residents had tested positive for the virus, with a rate of 1,479 cases per 100,000 people, the 11th highest rate in the state.
“We look to our health authorities for answers and guidance to our questions for how do we slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 in Muscatine. The answer is the same one from all health professionals everywhere: we either don’t go in public or we wear face coverings when we do, unless we can social distance,” Broderson said.
There are exceptions under the order: masks will not be required if individuals are able to maintain 6 feet of social distance, or when communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.
Children ages 2 and under, people with certain medical conditions and incarcerated individuals will not be required to wear a mask. Those with a medical exemption are asked to provide documentation if requested.
Broderson at times struggled to communicate her message Sunday afternoon. The press conference, which was already troubled by technical difficulties that made it hard for the crowd to hear the speakers, was repeatedly interrupted by the group of vocal opponents, who shouted “liar!” and “tyrant!” at Broderson.
“We can wear face coverings when we do go in public if we cannot maintain a 6 foot distance between us and other individuals,” Broderson explained.
“It should be our choice!” an opponent yelled back.
“You don’t have the authority to shut it down!” another added.
“I’d like to keep my freedom!” an opponent yelled.
“Yes I would too!” another agreed.
People burst into applause as opponents shouted Broderson down.
The county public health director spoke in support of the order, reiterating that the use of face coverings is effective, and one of the only available tools to slow the spread of the virus, along with social distancing and proper hand hygiene.
“The public health department of Muscatine County supports all efforts that promote the widespread use of precautionary measures that we know to be effective in reducing the spread of infectious diseases and aligns with disease control efforts recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said Christy Roby Williams, director of Trinity Muscatine Public Health.
She also noted that as of Sunday, 44 Muscatine County residents had died of COVID-19.
“For our public health department, that has been an unbearable loss to our county and to our county residents,” she said, a statement which prompted more interjections from opponents in the crowd.
How can we as a community not do everything that we can to save even one life or one business from closure, if we can? Muscatine is a city of people who care about each other, and who rise to the occasion when help is needed. I'm sorry if people are inconvenienced by this. - Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson
Broderson again tried to appeal to a sense of collective responsibility to protect public health, as the country is waylaid by the global coronavirus pandemic.
“How can we as a community not do everything that we can to save even one life or one business from closure, if we can?” Broderson asked.
“Muscatine is a city of people who care about each other, and who rise to the occasion when help is needed. I’m sorry if people are inconvenienced by this,” she added, before being drowned out by a chorus of “boos."
Questions persist about the scope of local control during the coronavirus emergency. The state attorney general’s office has told IPR that local governments are not currently authorized to issue such orders, saying they would not be consistent with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ emergency declarations and guidance issued by IDPH.
Still, Iowa Code grants cities and counties “police powers," which include the power to “protect rights, privileges, and property of the city and county and to preserve and improve the peace, safety, welfare, comfort and convenience of their residents," according to a memo from Attorney General Tom Miller’s office.
Iowa Code further empowers city mayors “during a time of emergency or public danger," the memo adds.
It is this authority that the Muscatine ordinance cites in the mask mandate. The Des Moines Register has reported that Broderson “consulted and received approval from” Muscatine City Attorney Matthew Brick on the legality of the order.
When asked why these police powers would not authorize local governments to issue mask requirements, Lynn Hicks, communications director for the office, declined to offer further explanation.
According to the ordinance, the Muscatine Police Department will enforce the order, and violators will be “guilty of a [m]unicipal [i]nfraction."
Across the country, there is a growing list of cities and states issuing blanket mask mandates, as coronavirus cases soar, fueled by broad efforts to reopen the economy. Public polling has shown a majority of Americans support mandatory mask use in at least some public settings.