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Iowa Governor Says Cities, Counties Can't Require Masks; Highlights 'Concerning' COVID-19 Increase

Charlie Neibergall
AP Photo
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a news conference, Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in Urbandale, Iowa.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday local governments cannot implement mask requirements because they are not consistent with her public health disaster proclamation.

New confirmed coronavirus cases are increasing again as the state has been completely “reopened” for weeks and no government mask-wearing mandates are in effect.

But Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson defended her city’s new mask requirement Tuesday. She said the city attorney told her the mandate is authorized under a local emergency declaration and Iowa’s home rule provisions.

“Even if this is not something that we’re able to get enforced, we would be not doing our duty—I would not be doing my duty—if I didn’t try to do every possible thing that I can,” Broderson said.

But Muscatine County Attorney James Barry wrote in a memo that he believes local officials are not authorized to issue a mask mandate.

“In short, this is because the governor has previously issued clear directive as to the use of PPE during the pandemic, what the mayor has required as of today is not consistent with the governor’s proclamation(s) and that the power to issue such a mandate has not otherwise been delegated by the governor to the city/mayor,” Barry wrote.

Barry’s memo is consistent with a recent opinion from the Iowa Attorney General’s office.

“I’m just not going to take…‘It doesn’t look like you have the authority to do this,’” Broderson said. “No. That’s not acceptable. I will fight as much as I can to protect the people and the economy in Muscatine.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Muscatine police did not start enforcing the mask order.

Reynolds said she will “look at” allowing local governments to mandate mask wearing in public.

“All things are on the table,” Reynolds said.

Governor says increase in coronavirus cases “concerning”

New confirmed coronavirus cases are increasing and the percentage of Iowans testing positive has started to tick back up over the past few days.

“While it’s not cause for alarm, it is concerning,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said the majority of recent new coronavirus cases are among Iowans 18 to 40 years old.

“There’s a perception that because COVID is less serious for younger adults, that an increase in positive cases among this age group isn’t an issue. But that perception is false,” Reynolds said. “The consequences of COVID-19 continuing to spread among young adults increases the likelihood that the virus will continue to spread and then will spread to others including those who are most vulnerable.”

This change in messaging comes after Reynolds has repeatedly said for weeks that most Iowans don’t need to worry about getting sick because 80 percent of coronavirus cases are “mild.” She has said older Iowans and those with underlying health conditions need to continue to stay home because they’re more at risk.

Reynolds is urging all Iowans to “practice personal responsibility” and take public health precautions to protect themselves and others from the virus.

She said state officials will try to figure out why cases are increasing and talk about next steps to protect Iowans and avoid overwhelming hospitals.

“If we’re seeing a lot of the increase due to bars, young people attending bars in the evenings, then maybe we need to take a look at the hours,” Reynolds said. “Or maybe we need to look at ‘rolling back’ some of the mitigation efforts on bars.”

Tuesday's news conference was also the first where all members of Reynolds' office wore a mask. 

Fort Dodge prisoner dies, state confirms COVID-19 outbreak

The Iowa Department of Corrections announced Tuesday afternoon Ray Allen Vanlengen, a 71-year-old inmate at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, died “likely due to complications related to COVID-19 and multiple preexisting medical conditions” Monday night.

Vanlengen was the first to die of COVID-19 complications in an Iowa prison, according to IDOC.

Also Tuesday, Gov. Reynolds confirmed an outbreak at the Fort Dodge prison and said hundreds more inmates and staff will be tested this week.

According to the IDOC website, 61 inmates and five staff members at Fort Dodge tested positive as of Tuesday afternoon.  Four-hundred eighty inmates had been tested.

Test Iowa exceeds testing goals, but some can’t get appointments

Reynolds said more than 3,000 Iowans per day have been tested for coronavirus through the $26 million Test Iowa program.

But many Iowans have struggled to schedule testing appointments.

“While our volume of tests are in good supply, we are considering different ways to adjust operations at our testing sites and at the State Hygienic Lab so we can further expand capacity and meet the demands of Iowans who want to be tested,” Reynolds said.

She added finding enough medical personnel to staff the testing sites has been a challenge.

Reynolds said the state is pursuing more Test Iowa partnerships with health clinics, and a new one in Algona will start up Wednesday.

She also noted that testing negative for coronavirus is a snapshot in time, and those Iowans can still get infected later. She encouraged Iowans who start to experience symptoms or think they may have been exposed to an infected person to get tested again.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter
Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter