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Linn County Supervisors To Urge Governor To Authorize Local Face Covering Orders

An N95 face mask outside NYU Langone Health hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.
Noam Galai
Getty Images
Some local officials continue to grapple with how to get more residents to wear face coverings amid legal uncertainty.

Some local elected officials are continuing to grapple with how to get more residents to wear face coverings, at a time when their ability to mandate masks is uncertain. As some communities issue mandates they may not be able to enforce, others are hoping Gov. Kim Reynolds will grant them the authority to implement their own orders, as they watch coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise in the state.

At a meeting Wednesday, the Linn County Board of Supervisors reiterated they don’t want to pass a mandate that’s unenforceable (as the Johnson County Board of Supervisors did last week).

Instead, they’re moving forward with a resolution calling on Reynolds to grant local officials that authority.

Board Chair Ben Rogers says he hopes mayors in Linn County will sign on as well.

“We would like area mayors to sign onto our call to the governor to allow local officials to be able to make local decisions that the governor is currently not utilizing,” Rogers said.

The supervisors are in the process of finalizing the wording of the resolution and plan to vote on it next Monday.

Meanwhile, city council members in Mount Vernon have been watching other communities order residents to wear face masks or face shields when in public.

The city of about 4,000 is preparing for a major influx of new residents when Cornell College students return to campus next month.

But City Council Member Debra Herrmann says Iowa’s current approach of state control and “personal responsibility” is undercutting her community’s ability to prepare for the fall semester and protect public health.

“It takes away our ability for our small retailers to approach their clientele and say, ‘you know you really got to have a mask on when you come into my establishment’. And that’s expected behavior that people will comply to,” Herrmann said. “It just takes away those abilities for the local approach to be adapted.”

Herrmann says the city council is considering its own options, which could include a resolution (voluntary and unenforceable) or an ordinance (may take weeks or months to implement).

In the meantime, Herrmann hopes that a message of encouragement will convince more residents and visitors to wear face coverings to slow the spread of the highly infectious virus.

“We would like for it to be a mandate,” she said. “But we are uncertain at this point in time whether we can do that under a resolution. Legally we’ve been advised that we probably…might not be able to.”

The Mount Vernon City Council is expected to discuss a potential resolution at its meeting next Monday.