Iowa City Mayor issues proclamation requiring masks in public

People in Iowa City are required to wear face coverings in public starting Tuesday. The mayor’s proclamation conflicts with the governor’s legal guidance on local authority over masks.


Jake Maish

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague sits alone in City Hall while leading a city council meeting conducted over video chat due to health concerns caused by COVID-19 on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.

Rachel Schilke, News Reporter

Update July 21: Iowa City mayor Bruce Teague issued a proclamation Tuesday requiring everybody in Iowa City to wear a face covering in public when it is not possible to keep six feet of distance from others. Violation of the order is punishable by a simple misdemeanor.

The ordinance says citation is a last resort to obtain compliance.

“Simply put: By wearing a face mask, you are showing your fellow residents that you care about them,” Teague, sporting a face shield, said in an address on Facebook live. “If we comply with this order, Iowa City will see the difference. We’re all in this together, and this means that we can all do our part.”

Businesses must require face coverings of patrons and post signs informing customers that masks are required inside.

Masks are not required when people are traveling in their own vehicle or with members of their household, while exercising, or while eating or drinking in a restaurant.

The order will expire on September 15 unless otherwise extended or rescinded.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Attorney General’s office have maintained that cities aren’t able to require face coverings as it conflicts with the governor’s disaster proclamation. While the Muscatine, Iowa mayor has passed a similar measure, the county attorney said he won’t enforce it, so a local mask mandate has not yet been challenged in court.

People in Iowa City will be required to wear masks beginning Tuesday, as many local government officials in Johnson County advocate for consistency to show unified support against COVID-19.

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague will release a proclamation on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. mandating the use of masks, face shields, and facial coverings for all community members. Teague said wearing a face mask in public is more than a simple gesture as it protects individuals and the people around them.

“Because we know that face masks reduce the risks of transmitting COVID-19,” Teague told The Daily Iowan. “…mandating masks is necessary to protect the health and welfare of our residents and visitors.”

Iowa City’s mandate comes after Coralville Mayor John Lundell released a proclamation last Thursday, recommending all residents wear masks and practice social distancing.

Related: Johnson County residents urge Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to require face coverings

Teague spoke to those attending the Johnson County Joint Entities Meeting via Zoom on Monday. He said with many students returning to the University of Iowa campus, and children returning to Iowa City schools, he needed to think about what he as mayor can do during this public health crisis.

“We have a lot of students coming back, and we are not even sure of accurate numbers,” Teague said. “People are having a lot of false negatives, and many city staff have been in a situation where they test positive but have no symptoms.”

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Gov. Kim Reynolds have repeatedly stated that cities and counties can’t go beyond the governor’s current disaster proclamation, but that hasn’t stopped some cities from testing the extent of their authority.

Muscatine’s mayor issued a mask mandate in early July, but the county attorney said he would not enforce it, and the Muscatine City Council barred any city funds from being spent enforcing the mandate.

Despite the legal opinions of state officials, Teague said Iowa Code 372.14 gives the mayor the authority to release this proclamation.

Iowa City City Councilor Pauline Taylor commended both Lundell and Teague for releasing these proclamations and taking initiative to protect their communities.

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

“These communities have to prioritize and do the right thing,” Taylor said, “…and the right thing is mandating masks, no matter the consequences. So I say, ‘hear hear’.”

Chief of Infectious Diseases at the UI Carver College of Medicine Dan Diekema said during the meeting it has been proven that mandating masks in an area decreases the amount of cases and continues to do so as the length of the mandate increases.

He said the virus has proven to be very difficult to control, as the spread of the disease depends not only on the amount of virus shed from the upper respiratory system, but on the number of those that are asymptomatic.

“We only can control the spread by assuming that everyone can shed the virus,” Diekema said. “Anything that reduces the number of droplets forward towards the person in contact will slow the virus.”

Diekema said while requiring face masks is essential, now the cities must focus on enforcing the mandate. Areas that already have good adherence to mask usage see an increase in absolute coverage by 20 to 30 percent, he said.

Iowa City City Councilor Janice Weiner said mask coverings encompass everything in the community, and that there is something for everyone to channel energy on to protect against COVID-19.

“People can pick any piece they want,” Weiner said. “If they want to focus on [masks in] business, they can focus on businesses. If they want to focus on jobs, they can focus on that, they can focus on schools, public health, or social justice. It’s an everything issue, and the only way we get there is through face coverings.”