Johnson County Board of Supervisors to extend face mask mandate

The board heard recommendations from the Assistant County Attorney, as well as the Director of Johnson County Public Health, to extend the public health disaster declaration to maintain control over the county’s response to COVID-19.


Shivansh Ahuja

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors holds a work session via live-stream on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020.

Clinton Garlock, News Reporter

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will vote Wednesday to extend a county mandate to wear face masks as part of the county’s public health disaster declaration. That declaration was set to expire Oct. 5, and if approved by the board, would extend until Nov. 6.

“My recommendation has been to keep reaffirming our public health and disaster emergency, so that we can have some control over when the face covering mandate stays in effect,” Assistant County Attorney Susie Nehring said.

The mask regulations were previously approved by both the board and the Johnson County Department of Public Health.

Nehring said that Johnson County being home to three major hospitals that serve the entire state, as well as tens of thousands of students, provides the county extra responsibility to ensure the community is responding well to the pandemic.

RELATED: Iowa City Mayor issues proclamation requiring masks in public,

Johnson County Public Health Director Dave Koch supported Nehring’s recommendation. He said although Reynolds has recently rolled back recommendations for 14-day quarantining of those exposed to the virus, this did not affect his department’s operations.

Koch said that the department would continue moving forward with their plans, including continuing to track the spread of the disease through contact tracing.

“The trend is down,” the director said. “But we fully anticipate these numbers to go back up again and we’re making plans with immunization clinics, both for flu and COVID when the vaccine is made available.”

However, Koch said he is communicating with school officials so that they understand how the governor’s easing of quarantine guidelines will impact them.

Nehring said there is a possibility of a potential surge in cases in the coming months, as Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bar closure proclamation is set to expire on Oct. 4.

“It does appear that the bars being open or not makes a big difference,” she said. “We anticipate that as we go into the fall season that the rates of infection are going to go up anyways.”

She said the continuation update in the county declaration included additional information to reflect the current situation. This includes urging citizens to continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and maintain increased hygiene.

RELATED: Iowa governor declares public-health disaster emergency amid COVID-19 spread, closing bars and restaurants,

The proposed extended declaration is set to expire on Nov. 6, unless terminated or renewed by the board, she said.

“That isn’t a magic number,” Nehring said. “I chose that date to be approximately 30 days out from your current [declaration’s] end date which is Oct. 5, and also after the election.”

She said she anticipates residents being very focused on the presidential election, and that setting the date afterwards will allow the board to take necessary action after voting is over.

RELATED:  Johnson County declares spread of COVID-19 a public health emergency

Board Chair Rod Sullivan said he felt the recommendation was very appropriate. He said the board will consider officially extending the declaration at their meeting tomorrow.

“I think it’s good that we just kind of keep reviewing this periodically,” Sullivan said. “We don’t want to do it too frequently, but we also don’t want to wait too long either.”

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