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Greene County Supervisors Approve Face Covering Resolution

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Greene County's resolution states everyone in the county must wear a face covering in indoor public settings like grocery stores and hardware stores and outdoors when they can't keep 6 feet apart.

As coronavirus cases increase in central Iowa’s Greene County, the board of supervisors on Thursday approved a face covering mandate that the county attorney said is unenforceable, but is meant to be a way to educate people.

The resolution states everyone in central Iowa’s Greene County must wear a face covering in indoor public settings like grocery stores and hardware stores. People also need to wear a face covering outside if they can’t keep 6 feet apart. Some exemptions are when a person is alone or with their household members, while they’re traveling in a personal vehicle alone or with household members and while exercising. Children under 2 years old are exempt. The term “face covering” means a face mask or a face shield.

“WHEREAS, there is a continuing need to protect all residents and visitors of Greene County, especially those who are vulnerable to being infected with COVID-19 and experiencing severe illness and or death,” the resolution states.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds this week signed a new public health emergency declaration requiring masks in settings like large social gatherings. Reynolds has said local governments can’t mandate masks while her proclamation is in place. Because of this, Greene County Attorney Thomas Laehn said the county resolution passed, but it is unenforceable for now.

“If the governor's proclamation were to expire or be terminated, at that point the county's mask mandate would go into effect,” Laehn said.

The resolution doesn’t carry any penalties. It reads it is “not intended to be punitive or stigmatizing and is in the best interest of health, safety, and economic recovery.”

“The board passed it knowing that it’s unenforceable,” Laehn said. The resolution’s purpose, he said, is to “encourage mask wearing with the hope of mitigating a very serious health crisis that's affecting people across the state and especially here in Greene County.”

Greene County’s 14-day infection rate was above 24 percent Thursday. Greene County Public Health Director Becky Wolf said the county had a two-week infection rate as low as 5.8 percent a couple weeks ago. She attributed the recent spike in coronavirus cases partly to some people becoming complacent about the virus.

“But we’ve also had some community type events that have occurred and then we have seen multiple cases related to that event that people were at,” Wolf said.

Wolf said the health department has also noticed that if one person in a household tests positive for the coronavirus and they're ill, it’s likely that because of close contact and exposure to their household members that other household members will become ill too.

“Some of our families are really getting hit hard,” Wolf said.

Greene County had 372 total coronavirus cases Thursday afternoon, according to data from the county health department. The county has a population of about 9,000 people.

Wolf said the county health department’s biggest concern is the upcoming holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas. “We’re really encouraging people to think outside the box of how you can celebrate that holiday,” she said.

The county’s resolution mandating face coverings will expire after Jan. 15, 2021 unless the date is changed or the resolution is repealed.