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Harrison County Will Require Face Masks In Public

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors on Thursday approved a countywide face mask requirement. It doesn’t carry any fines, but the county’s public health administrator hopes it will underscore how prevalent the coronavirus is locally.

The regulation states everyone in the county needs to wear face coverings “in public and indoors,” when people can’t stay 6 feet away from others. Some exemptions include people who are under 2 years old, while someone is exercising and while eating or drinking at a bar or restaurant.

There is no enforcement behind it, but Harrison County Home and Public Health Administrator Brad Brake said he hopes it draws attention to how real the pandemic is in the county.

“And that if nothing else, people have learned more, and we will see an uptick mask use until we have better measures that can protect our residents,” Brake said.

Brake continued, “No one is saying a face covering is 100 percent effective or even 50 percent effective, but when paired with other mitigation measures, they do help.”

Brake said those other mitigation measures include social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

Harrison County’s coronavirus infection rate has stayed above 20 percent since Oct. 9, and is one of the highest in Iowa, according to the state's coronavirus website. As of Thursday night the 14-day average positivity rate was at 20.7 percent. Three of the county's four long term care facilities currently have outbreaks.

Harrison County has had 695 total coronavirus cases as of Thursday. More than 300 are considered recovered. Fifteen people have died from COVID-19.

Brake said the county is still figuring out next steps with implementing the regulation. The document will be published in local newspapers next week and will likely take effect several days after.

For our schools that don’t currently have a requirement in place, it gives me time to talk through what that looks like for those schools,” Brake said.

Boyer Valley and Woodbine school districts do not require masks on their own, but they will have to once the mask requirement takes effect. Besides schools, the mandate applies to other indoor public places like pharmacies, hardware stores and grocery stores.

During Tuesday’s Harrison County Board of Health meeting, a board member said law enforcement would be asked to hand out masks and educate people who aren’t wearing one. Brake said something that came up in comments during the board of supervisors meeting was that “police have enough on their plates already."

Brake said he is going to look to secure masks that will be handed out to people who aren’t wearing any. He said masks will be given to county law enforcement officers and “it’s going to be totally up to them if that’s something they want to do … we’re not going to be putting more pressure on police officers to do even more than they’re already doing.”

Once the regulation is in place, the county’s board of health and board of supervisors will review it after 30 days and can decide to renew it. According to the document, the board of health will recommend county supervisors terminate the regulation when the county’s 14-day infection rate stays under 10 percent for 14 consecutive days.

Harrison County is one of several counties and cities to have established a mask mandate, though Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has said local governments don’t have the legal authority to do so.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.