June 07, 2023

Iowa governor decries local mandatory mask wearing

URBANDALE (AP) — Local officials don't have the authority to require that residents use masks to halt spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday, a day after the mayor of Muscatine issued such an order.

Asked at a news conference about Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson's order, which took effect Monday, Reynolds said local officials need the governor's approval to implement such rules.

Because Reynolds has a public health proclamation in effect, a local official can't implement requirements that conflict with the state rules, the governor said.

“If it's not consistent with that then it's not appropriate and it's not in effect,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds in March ordered schools closed, restricted large gatherings and also didn't allow indoor operations of bars, restaurants and other business. She began relaxing restrictions in late May and gradually lifted most of them in the weeks that followed. Since bars and restaurants reopened fully in early June, spikes in cases among young adults have been occurring, particularly in college towns with active bar districts. She never mandated a shelter in place order and never required face coverings to be worn.

Muscatine County has a high rate of infection with more than 23% of those getting tested having positive results on Monday. The county has the 11th highest case numbers per 100,000 population in the state at 1,502. It's neighbor is Louisa County where an outbreak at a Tyson meatpacking plant in Columbus Junction drove cases higher in the region.

Reynolds said she can enable local health officials to require face coverings and she's considering it as 10 counties in Iowa show spikes in known positive cases in recent days.

“It’s one of the things we’re going to look at. All things are on the table and we're going to continue to review, manage, mitigate and contain the coronavirus," she said.

Reynolds, the lieutenant governor, the state's epidemiologist and other staff all arrived at Tuesday's news conference wearing masks for the first time.

Reynolds acknowledged Tuesday that much of the spread of the virus in Iowa is among people under 40 and if it's determined that increase is tied to bars she may consider limiting hours or “take a look at rolling back some of the mitigation efforts on bars.”

Reynolds also noted increased cases in Webster County, in part because of an outbreak at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, where 39 inmates and three staff members have tested positive. She ordered testing on another 600 inmates and 100 staff members Wednesday.

The state posted 274 known new cases on Tuesday and now has 31,929 known positive cases. State data indicates 725 Iowans have died with three new deaths posted in the last 24 hours as of Tuesday morning.