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Coralville Council Members Weigh A Mask Mandate, Opt To 'Strongly Encourage' Mask Use Instead

Gilbert Mercier / Flickr Creative Commons
Coralville city officials weighed whether they could issue a local mask mandate, but ultimately decided to "strongly encourage" the use of face coverings in their community.

City officials in Coralville debated Tuesday night whether they could issue a mask mandate, as coronavirus cases numbers are on the rise in Johnson County. Ultimately the City Council opted for a voluntary approach instead, with plans to "strongly encourage" residents to wear face coverings.

The discussion was prompted by Council Member Jill Dodds, who is a retired nurse and now runs a childcare center. In her defense of a mandate, Dodds cited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend the use of masks for everyone over the age of two.

“This is a health emergency,” Dodds told her fellow council members. “This is not a political debate.”

Melvin Donaldson, an emergency medicine physician and epidemiologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, also spoke in defense of mask mandate. Donaldson had previously been urging the city to issue such an order.

“Our cases of COVID-19 disease are rapidly increasing in our local community and in our region at large. In particular, some of the indicators I look at, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and positive tests have been increasing,” Donaldson said. “And of notable interest, the test positive rate, or the percentage of covid tests that come back positive, has been steadily increasing.”

City council members ultimately decided against a requirement, referencing legal opinions by county attorneys and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, stating that local officials are not currently authorized to issue such orders.

Council Member Tom Gill said that while he doesn’t want a mandate, voluntary masking is not doing enough to control the virus.

“I don’t like to mandate. But we’ve got to do something to get people to realize that there are a lot of people coming into this community. And if we work together we can have football games. We can have arena openings,” Gill said.

Gill criticized the state government for not allowing local communities to have a broader say in their response to the crisis.

“We cannot do anything unless we have state support. And the state doing a one-size-fits-all is not the solution,” he said.

Lack of control has also been a source of frustration for Council Member Meghann Foster.

“I would love to do a mandate. I would’ve loved to. I would give anything…I would’ve…I would’ve liked a stay at home order. And I know that we don’t have the authority to do that,” Foster said.

Instead of a mandate, council members plan to issue a proclamation that “strongly encourages” the use of masks in the community. They’re also considering requiring face coverings within city facilities.

Despite mixed messaging from the federal government earlier on the public use of face masks earlier on in the pandemic, public health officials have been urging Americans to voluntarily wear face masks, as well as practice social distancing and proper hand hygiene, for months.

But following the broad reopening of the economy, these efforts have largely been squandered, as coronavirus cases make a resurgence across the country, at a time when adequate testing and contact tracing is still lacking.

Foster says the voluntary efforts have so far not been adequate.

“There’ve been a lot statements. There’ve been a lot of press conferences. There’s been a lot of encouragement,” Foster said. “We keep waiting for people to do the right thing and it’s just not happening.”