Johnson County health and business leaders urge mask wearing as coronavirus cases tick up in the county

Coronavirus cases have been trending back upward in Johnson County over the last week. Officials urged residents to follow public-health guidelines to prevent further strain on health facilities and the economy.


Caleb McCullough

Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch speaks at a press conference in front of the Graduate Hotel on June 25.

Caleb McCullough, Summer Editor

Johnson County public-health officials, business leaders, and members of Iowa City’s Project Better Together urged residents to wear masks and practice social distancing while inside businesses at a press conference Thursday.

Johnson County is experiencing a spike in positive coronavirus cases after nearly two months of trending downward, seeing double-digit increases in cases every day over the last week.

The surge in cases has been primarily in people aged 20-25, Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch said at the conference, which was held outside the Graduate Hotel on the Pedestrian Mall.

While younger people are less at risk for severe symptoms and hospitalization, some of those people work in long-term care facilities, hospitals, and daycares and can spread the virus to others, Koch said.

“This is a time, really, for us to take action, to make individual decisions, to wear a mask, to physically distance from other individuals, to certainly stay home if you aren’t feeling well,” he said. “…We need to each take an active role and make a conscious decision to utilize these proven mitigation strategies.”

Other public-health officials at the conference included Mercy Hospital president Margaret Reese and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran.

Gunasekaran said there has not been as much compliance with social distancing and face coverings as health officials would like to see. He said he wants to see businesses remain open and school resume in the fall, but that people need to follow public-health guidelines to prevent further spread of the virus.

“I will tell you that if this trend continues for a few more weeks or a few more months, we will lose the ability to control this situation,” he said.

Business leaders at the conference said many businesses will not be able to weather another shutdown. Kate Moreland, the president of Iowa City Area Development Group, said the group is encouraging businesses to require masks of both employees and patrons, and that the community should take precautions to prevent another blow to the already strained economy.

“The strength of our local economy is dependent on the businesses being able to stay open,” she said. “Another shutdown would simply be disastrous, and many of our businesses will not survive.”

Some Iowa City businesses have already had to close their doors during the pandemic. The Union Bar and Uptown Bill’s have closed, and The Mill’s owners have announced they’re selling the venue, leaving its future uncertain.

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Koch said the authority to implement another shutdown rests with Gov. Kim Reynolds, and the county cannot do so on its own.

“We’re just always unsure completely of what direction the governor will take,” he said. “…I’m not sure if and when it would get to a point where she would shut back down, I haven’t heard any information about that.”

Reynolds said at a public event in Keota on Tuesday that she doesn’t plan on implementing restrictions on businesses again.