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Several Iowa cities have announced citywide face mask mandates, among them Waterloo, Iowa City, and Des Moines. Below is a Q&A on what the current law says about mask requirements and the rights of the state, municipalities and citizens:

Can municipalities (cities, counties, etc.) require masks and impose a penalty for noncompliance?  No, according to Attorney General Tom Miller. Iowa is under a public health disaster, as proclaimed by the Governor in consultation with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH). Because of this declaration the Governor and IDPH have broad legal authority. The Governor can delegate powers to local authorities to address the current public health emergency, but the Governor can also choose not to delegate the authority. In this case, Governor Reynolds has not given local governments the authority to regulate mask wearing, and therefore they cannot require citizens to wear masks in the community. However, municipalities can require masks on their property and in their buildings. Examples could include: city council meetings, city office buildings, or a public library.

Can public schools require face masks be worn? Yes, public schools can require students to wear masks, even though the state Department of Education does not require it. Schools are given the choice to regulate face masks by teachers and students and to set standards for masks. The Department of Education has a list of concerns regarding health and safety, legal and training issues schools should be prepared to address if face masks are required.

Can private business mandate face masks? Yes, a private business can require persons entering the business wear a face mask and can also require employees to wear them. A person who refuses to wear a mask can be denied entry to the business and can face legal action if they refuse to leave when asked.

The Debate: Do face masks help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in a non-hospital or non-nursing home setting? Evidence exists on both sides of that debate, some demonstrating it is beneficial and other showing it makes no difference or is even harmful. It’s too long to discuss in this newsletter.

Conclusion: This is why at this point it is important to allow freedom for each person to decide this issue based on his own health and risk aversion. The state is not requiring it and local governments should not either. Mask mandates are both illegal (according to the Attorney General) and unenforceable. An unenforceable mandate like this breeds disrespect for the law. We seem to have some cities in Iowa with a positive case of “totalitarian fever”, anxious to regulate more of the lives of their citizens. This is the wrong direction. It breeds fear and distrust between people. It is what citizens hate from our governments. We should have more liberty, not less.

This is not to say government should not make recommendations based on what the science is showing. And it is also not saying people should not look out for and care for the health and safety of others and be encouraged to do so. But liberty means each person should be able to consider all these factors and decide this issue for themselves.

Even though there is a spike at this point in time of positive COVID cases in certain locales, we must keep in mind the big picture:

  • Remember our original goal under the public health disaster emergency proclamation was to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed and we have achieved that.
  • Now that the virus has been introduced, it will always be with us. We will not be able to stop it.
  • It will work its way through the population, mask or no mask, and eventually we will achieve herd immunity.
  • Even though each death is very sad, we must remember that deaths from COVID are a small fraction of 1% of Iowa’s population.
  • Serious and deadly contagious diseases have been with us a very long time and we have never sought to mandate face masks for healthy people as a response. And we should not do so now.

Governor’s Proclamations

August 21stThe public health disaster emergency is extended for another 30 days, through September 20th. School districts with buildings damaged by the derecho winds can offer instruction by primarily remote learning with the approval of the Dept. of Ed. Those who can’t even do that because of the derecho may apply for a waiver of instructional time from the Dept. of Ed. Fees to replace official records by the county or state that were destroyed by the derecho are suspended.

August 27th: Bars will be closed in 6 counties: Black Hawk, Dallas, Johnson, Linn, Polk, and Story. Any of these establishments that prepare and serve food to customers may remain open as long as alcohol sales on premise are not more than half of their monthly revenue. Carry-out and delivery are still allowed. Restaurants in these 6 counties can only sell alcohol for consumption on-site until 10 pm. These restrictions do not apply for carry-out and delivery. Restaurants and bars in the remaining 93 counties continue as previously. The governor cites an increase in positive COVID cases in young adults, in particular possibly due to large student social gatherings at our universities, as the reason for these closures. Three of these counties include the Regent universities. In addition, this proclamation includes an age threshold of 2 or older for the recommendation to wear a face mask when unable to social distance.

Where Does Iowa Rank?

Top State for handling the COVID pandemic, most “fiscally sound” and “resilient” – according to the non-partisan Council of State Governments

6th Best State for average teacher salary compared to state average income – according to business.org

11th Best State for your dollar’s purchasing power and the cost of living. The real value of $100 is $112 in Iowa compared to other states making Iowa one of the most affordable states in the country – according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation

Sandy Salmon

Author: Sandy Salmon