Johnson County Board of Supervisors to consider masks in county buildings

At a work session, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors discussed the need to pass a resolution recommending masks in all county buildings.


Grace Smith

Johnson County holds a virtual meeting for the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 12, 2020.

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Editor

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution to recommend masks in all county facilities and buildings at its formal meeting Thursday. 

During a work session Wednesday, the board heard from Johnson County Attorney’s office and  public health department officials to discuss what can be done to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the county, which has the highest vaccination rate in Iowa.

Assistant County Attorney Lynn Rose said the board has several options when it comes to mask guidance.

“Our data is changing daily, we’re learning new things each day, we really are in the shifting sands of COVID at this point and so, I did draft a resolution that requires mask-wearing in county buildings for your consideration,” she said.

The “Resolution to recommend all visitors and employees to wear a face covering when inside county facilities and buildings” comes after Johnson County Community Health Manager Sam Jarvis addressed the board last week

Iowa City is one of the municipalities in Johnson County that recently began requiring masks be worn in its city buildings and facilities. Coralville and Cedar Rapids have also passed mask mandates for their city buildings. 

Rose said the resolution is legal under the change the Iowa Legislature made to its code in May that bans mask mandates, which stops an actual mandate of masks in county buildings from being made. The resolution coincides with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance by recommending masks to all visitors, including those who are vaccinated.

She said there are some nuances when it comes to county employees in the building wearing masks, but those are not addressed in the resolution. 

Jennifer Miller, Johnson County Public Health disease prevention specialist, said employees can decide against wearing a mask in private offices or in open floor plans where employees sit far apart. She did recommend if employees walk and sit closer than six feet apart or attend meetings together in person that they do wear masks.

Johnson County is currently in substantial transmission and is surrounded by counties with high transmission. Miller said she wouldn’t be surprised if the county moves into high transmission soon. 

“Especially as we go back to K-12 school and we have the university reopen and we have a large number of unvaccinated people who are going to be together – so that’s just going to increase transmission,” she said. 

Substantial represents when 50 out of 100,000 residents test positive in the past 7 and high is 100, Miller said. Johnson County Public Health recommended to the board that it reinstate mask guidance from winter and spring 2021 as soon as possible.

Rose recommended that the resolution be passed during the board’s formal session because the issue does not need an ordinance. 

“It’s very clear that you have authority, with regards to county buildings and facilities and I would encourage you to exercise that authority,” she said. 

Linn County also has a similar resolution circulating currently, Rose said, but the county’s Board of Supervisors has yet to vote on it. 

The resolution is on the agenda for Thursday’s formal meeting. If it is passed, the recommendation would remain in effect until October.