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Woodbury County's Health Department Proposes Recommending Cloth Masks In Public

The Siouxland District Board of Health is considering a mask recommendation for Woodbury County that strongly encourages people to wear cloth face masks in public.

The Siouxland District Board of Health wants to approve a countywide cloth face mask recommendation to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus but stopped short of a mandate.

The recommendation reads in part “…we strongly encourage Woodbury County Residents and Businesses to support efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by the wearing of cloth face masks in public and following other recommended mitigation strategies of social distancing, staying home if you or a household member is not feeling well and washing/disinfecting hands regularly."

The recommendation also points out that with schools and colleges resuming soon, activities and individual interactions will increase. Woodbury County is in the Sioux City Metropolitan Area, which was considered the nation's top hot spot for coronavirus cases and deaths based on its population in late April through early May. But it has consistently been seeing its percentage of positive tests in the six to eight percent range since the middle of May, according to the document.

“To be considered contained, additional strategies need to be employed that will reduce this closer to the one to two percent range, while maintaining a level of testing of 1100 residents per week,” the recommendation reads.

During the Siouxland District Board of Health’s monthly meeting Wednesday, Director of Health Kevin Grieme said Woodbury County is still seeing around 100 new coronavirus cases each week. He referred to research that cloth face masks help to reduce the spread.

“It does not eliminate the risks,” Grieme said. “We’ve worked with many of the schools to help them understand that this is a process or practice that comes about that reduces the spread.”

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Attorney General's Office have said local governments are not legally authorized to issue mask mandates, but some Iowa cities and counties have gone ahead with their own orders. Linn County's board of supervisors last week issued a proclamation calling on Reynolds to allow local governments to have the authority to make those decisions. The county's mayors joined the proclamation Wednesday.

Grieme told IPR that he feels the need to get a mask recommendation on the record and out to the public, but other actions could be considered in the future. He said he is keeping an eye on how Linn County's situation plays out, as it could potentially open the door for Woodbury County to take additional steps.

“If they're successful, this would open up the door for all counties within the state to make decisions related to what's best for them,” Grieme said.

The board of health’s members asked for additional clarification on what “public” includes. Member Adam Lloyd said he would like to keep the recommendation broad.

“You can stretch it both ways, but I just don’t know that we want to pigeonhole ourselves,” Lloyd said. “We want to try to be all-encompassing because we all have the same recommendation to stop the spread and wear a mask.”

The board will hold a special meeting to give final approval once the recommendation is clarified.

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter