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Supervisors finalize county mask mandate

Enforcement teeth removed prior to passage

A mask mandate passed in a split vote Tuesday by Webster County Supervisors brought the county in line with a similar mandate passed by the City of Fort Dodge in November.

The regulation, first drafted and passed by the Webster County Board of Health Dec. 3, requires masks or face coverings to be worn at all times in most indoor public locations, regardless of how long one is inside or how close one is to others. Tightening the more permissive language of a November mask mandate issued by Gov. Kim Reynolds, it would also require use of masks outdoors when six feet of distance cannot be maintained from others.

The new rules passed with a 3-2 vote. Supervisors Niki Conrad, Nick Carlson and Bob Thode voted in favor, while Supervisors Mark Campbell and Keith Dencklau dissented.

“This is an extension of what the city of Fort Dodge passed,” Carlson said. “There is no enforcement to this, as of now.”

Notable exemptions to the law extend to those eating or drinking at a restaurant, those exercising, residents in a personal vehicle and those participating in religious or spiritual gatherings, including weddings and funerals.

A previous draft of the public health regulation stirred uproar among business owners who learned they would have been subject to civil penalties of up to $750 for first offenses and up to $1,000 for subsequent offenses for flouting enforcement of the new rules in their establishments. That provision was suspended in the Board of Health’s Thursday meeting, but the remainder of the mandate OK’d by Supervisors Tuesday is now in effect.

But the county regulation, rendered toothless with its enforcement mechanism suspended, was not put into law Tuesday without some choice words from constituents.

“This is an illegitimate resolution,” said resident Reggie Simmons, arguing the county had no authority to “override” the governor’s mandate with more restrictive rules. “The county cannot usurp the governor. … I will do everything I can do vote you out if you vote for this.”

Simmons comments reflected similarly harsh opposition expressed by residents during the Board of Health’s meeting Thursday to remove business penalties from the protocol.

In previous meetings this month, County Attorney Darren Driscoll outlined the provisions of Iowa law and Reynolds’ early November order that made local restrictions not only compatible, but legally permissible. Though cities and counties cannot write local regulations inconsistent with the governor’s order, they are allowed to strengthen mask requirements to help calm local COVID-19 outbreaks.

“(An) inconsistent (local regulation) would be if the governor imposed a mask mandate for all people and the Board of Health (then) decided ‘we don’t believe in masks’ and passed a regulation saying it’s illegal to wear a mask,” Driscoll said Thursday. “What we are doing here, in my opinion, is complementary to what the governor is doing.”

Two others spoke in favor of the protocol Tuesday, even if they wished it went further.

“It’s better than not having anything,” said Megan Secor, co-owner of Soldier Creek Winery and organizer of a petition that helped bring the mask mandates to the city and county. “As a business owner and community member, this needs to happen.”

“While it clearly won’t make everybody happy, it will positively help our community,” Conrad said before voting.

The Board of Health’s thinking behind imposing penalties on businesses rather than individuals for violations was based in consideration for law enforcement officers. Previously, board members hoped the need for enforcement could be balanced by removing the impetus for a flood of complaints on individual violators.

But the civil penalty for businesses deliberately ignoring the rules could be reinstated at a later date by the Board of Health and Supervisors. The board previously said it would revisit enforcement mechanisms at a later date, likely at least a month from now, if necessary. Though no language in the regulation stipulates what might trigger a bite from those enforcement teeth, board members said the county’s positivity rate and burdens at local health care institutions would be valuable metrics in making the determination.

Those with questions, comments or observations about the new county mask mandate can direct their calls to Webster County Public Health’s special mask hotline at 515-227-7155.

Where masks are now required in Webster County:

• Grocery stores, pharmacies and retail stores

• Common areas of businesses open to the public.

• County buildings.

• Public settings not part of one’s residence.

• Outdoors, unless a minimum of six feet distance is maintained from others at all times.

• Public transportation and private car services including taxis, ride share and carpooling.

Where masks are not required:

• In a personal vehicle.

• While a person is at home.

• While exercising at moderate or high intensity, such as jogging and biking.

• While seated at a food establishment in the process of eating or drinking.

• While obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of a face covering.

• When federal or state law prohibits wearing a face covering or requires its removal.

Who is not required to wear masks:

• Children younger than 3.

• Anyone with a medical condition, such as oxygen therapy or a ventilator, that would be impeded by wearing a face mask. Dr. Kelli Wallace, medical director for Webster County Public Health, noted there are “truly very few valid exemptions” for masks.

• Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove their face covering without assistance.

• Athletes participating in sporting or recreational events.

• Anyone who has been explicitly told by a medical, legal or behavioral health professional not to wear a mask.

• Public safety providers, such as law enforcement and firefighters.

• Anyone removing their face covering to verify their identity for lawful purposes.

If you have questions after reading this list of requirements, call Webster County Public Health’s special mask hotline at 515-227-7155.

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