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Proclamation encourages masks

One of the most controversial things to come from the COVID-19 pandemic are mask mandates.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has held back from issuing a statewide mask requirement, leaving Iowa as one of the few states without one.

But, local governments have taken steps to require a mask in Iowa. Marshalltown is one of the metros without a mandate. A new proclamation issued by Mayor Joel Greer on Friday strongly encourages, but not requires, Marshalltown residents to wear a mask.

“The Governor of Iowa has maintained that the Attorney General’s opinion deprives mayors of having mandates that are more specific or more onerous than what the governor has mandated,” Greer said.

There has been controversy on whether cities and counties will be able to enforce mask mandates they’ve made.

“Some mayors are taking the position that they have local control sufficient enough for them as mayors to mandate (masks) and enforce it,” Greer said. “I took the position that I am mandating it, but there are no specific enforcement provisions or administrative fines or other penalties.”

Localities like Muscatine, Johnson County, Waterloo, Ames, Dubuque, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and others have issued mask mandates.

Greer’s proclamation, without a penalty provision, is a middle-of-the-road option.

“We at the Marshalltown Police Department, we’re wearing masks because we’re paid to protect our community and we strongly encourage people to follow advice from public health officials as we all deal with the COVID response,” Police Chief Mike Tupper said.

Some communities in Iowa avoided local mask mandates because they were worried about the risk and cost of lawsuit from the governor’s office.

“I don’t think there’s a risk of lawsuit at this point,” Greer said. “There’s enough time for one and I don’t anticipate any of the mayors to be suing the governor’s office and frankly I don’t anticipate the governor suing any of the cities where they’ve tried to use the mandate.”

Any lawsuit brought on because of a mask mandate would be highly unusual for the court system to process, he said.

Marshalltown’s proclamation would not come close to inviting any legal action.

If Reynolds changes her mind and issues a mandate requiring people to wear masks, the city would not have to take any action.

“If the governor issues a mandate, like other governors in other states have done, I don’t think a single mayor in Iowa needs to or would likely do anything other than thank her,” Greer said. “She has the power to mandate masks statewide, and if she does that then there’s no need for us to look at my wishy-washy mandate. Frankly that’s what we need.”

In several neighboring and nearby counties Reynolds has restricted bars to be closed because of an increased number of COVID-19 cases as schools and universities open.

“That’s in part why I’m telling everybody to wear a mask,” Greer said. “To try to dissuade those people coming from Ames or Iowa City from coming here to drink and party here.”

If the pandemic continues it creates both a health and economic challenge.

“Do we close down now to get healthier sooner, or do we open things up so businesses can survive but it’s going to take longer to flatten the corona curve,” Greer said. “I’m more worried about families that have students and their ability to learn and get back to a normal classroom, than I am about business owners like me.”

Greer has been one of Marshalltown’s biggest mask proponents. He has time and time again called for residents to wear masks, socially distance and wash their hands.

“I wish the governor would either do the mandate or authorize mayors to do it, and if she did I would immediately do it with enforcement teeth,” he said. “I think we need it, I think we’re not going to flatten the curve fast enough without it.”

His views on the need for masks, but also on the need for legal authorization have left Greer conflicted.

“One of my hands is tied behind my back and I’m boxing with somebody with two hands,” he said.

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Contact Thomas Nelson at 641-753-6611 or tnelson@timesrepublican.com

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