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Johnson County Supervisors Approve Face Covering Mandate

071720-A Mask Is The New Smile
Charlie Neibergall
Johnson County supervisors are the latest local officials to issue a local face covering mandate that Gov. Kim Reynolds has said is moot.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has voted to mandate the use of face coverings in public settings, an order which the county attorney believes will be enforceable. Board members are the latest local government officials to defy Gov. Kim Reynolds’ position that the local orders are moot.

After first passing a resolution that legal staff said was unenforceable, Johnson County supervisors have approved a regulation they think will stick. The board worked with the county attorney’s office and the county board of health to draft the mandate, which requires face coverings in all indoor public settings and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible, with some exceptions.

Supervisor Royceann Porter compared the measure to seat belt laws, noting that they were initially controversial, but have proven to be lifesaving.

“It wasn’t something that people wanted. But once you started doing it, it was effective. So I just want to say that I’m doing this to save lives,” Porter said. “I know there’s going to be some people that’s going to be upset with us and it’s ok. But we’re going to all together get through this.”

Supervisor Janelle Rettig also acknowledged that some in the community may resist the order by citing the importance of personal liberties, but said that the risk to public health is too great.

“Sometimes your freedom ends when you can kill other people. And this is this case. This isn’t about freedom, it’s about respecting your fellow human beings,” Rettig said. “And we all should respect one another enough to protect one another. And that means wearing a face covering.”

The Johnson County supervisors are the latest to forge ahead with a local regulation that Reynolds has said is not legally authorized.

Questioned by a reporter Thursday about whether she would either grant local governments the authority to issue their own mandates, or officially challenge the orders, Reynolds repeated her position that the orders are inappropriate.

“We encourage Iowans to wear a mask when they’re interacting with others and they’re unable to social distance,” Reynolds said. “But I just don’t believe that a one size fits all from a government mandate is the right direction.”

While governors across the country have evolved on this issue, Reynolds has declined to change her position, even as medical professionals, faith leaders and elected officials urge her to act.

Iowa is one of just two states to not mandate masks in at least some public settings, according to the advocacy group #Masks4All.

Reynolds’ approach continues to frustrate public health officials hoping to do everything in their power to slow the spread of the virus, which as of Thursday afternoon had killed 908 Iowans.

Speaking generally about the importance of locally-led public health measures, Black Hawk County Public Health Director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye said counties should be empowered to direct their own pandemic response.

“The reality of Linn County, Johnson County, Black Hawk County will most likely be different, right? Because people are different,” she said. “When it comes to the response, we do have to be able to allow our…counties that have really been impacted by COVID-19 be able to put in a response plan that will address the needs of a community.”

The Johnson County mandate will go into effect once it’s published in the local paper, which is expected to happen Monday.