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Sioux City To Require Masks In City Buildings

Nik Anderson via Flickr Creative Commons
Sioux City will require people to wear face coverings while inside City Hall and a number of other city buildings starting Wednesday.

Sioux City will require people to wear face coverings or masks while inside City Hall and a number of other city buildings as well as on city transit starting Wednesday to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Sioux City on Tuesday sent IPR a list of 19 city buildings that will require masks, four fewer than were on a list from Monday. A city spokeswoman says four buildings were inadvertently included Monday.

Iowa has had more than 42,000 coronavirus cases as of Monday morning. More than 3,500 are in Woodbury County. Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott said city officials have been concerned about the spike around the state, but local officials don’t have the authority to put a mask requirement in place other than for city property.

“It appears that not so much in our area, thank God, but the rest of the state and then some of our surrounding areas it’s spiking again,” Scott said. “We'd like to keep that spike down in Sioux City and if we can possibly do anything to help that, we should.”

Sioux City on Friday announced that starting Wednesday and “until further notice,” the public will be required to wear protective face coverings or masks in city buildings. City staff will be required to wear face coverings or masks as well, while in common areas or places in the office where they can’t social distance or where there are no barriers to protect them from COVID-19. The 19 city buildings include City Hall, the police and fire administration building, Sioux Gateway Airport, libraries and several others. The city on Monday announced that passengers on city transit would also be required to wear masks. Other cities have taken similar steps to Sioux City, including Ames.

The City of Muscatine, Iowa City and Johnson County have put city- and countywide mask requirements into place, though local governments in Iowa are not authorized to do so, according to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. In a June 23 letter to State Sen. Zach Wahls of Coralville, Iowa Assistant Attorney General Michael Bennett wrote that while Gov. Kim Reynolds’ statewide public health emergency proclamation is in place, “all local action or regulation would need to be consistent and compliant” with it. Lynn Hicks, a spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, said mask requirements in city buildings are “consistent with past opinions from our office.”

“Local officials have the authority to set reasonable restrictions that apply to facilities owned or directly controlled by the city or county,” Hicks said in an email.

During the public comment period of Monday’s Sioux City Council meeting, two people asked the council to require masks citywide, as Iowa City and Muscatine have done.

“I know to the degree your hands are tied,” said Sioux City resident Jeanette Hopkins. “I would admire you immensely if you’d take that step and do as Iowa City did. I do understand the legal aspects of this.”

Council members didn’t respond to Hopkins or the other resident who made a comment, but Scott told IPR earlier Monday he doesn’t think Sioux City can go any further than it has, under Gov. Reynolds’ proclamation.

“Our city attorney has made that very clear to us even though a lot of our citizens don’t quite understand that,” Scott said. “We don’t have the ability to do what a lot of our citizens would like us to do.”

City Manager Bob Padmore said Sioux City leaders haven’t yet met to discuss the mask requirement further. He said they hope people will voluntarily comply with the order.

“If people choose not to wear masks, we would ask that they not come to City Hall or if they're in City Hall or other public buildings to leave,” Padmore said. “And we hope for compliance. We don't want to make this a big issue. But at the same time, we want to protect the safety of not only our employees, but other people that are coming to City Hall as well.”

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 28.