As COVID-19 cases continue to climb both in Dubuque and outside of it, Dubuque County’s public health officials have started communicating directly with the leaders of its smaller cities to see if they would consider local mask mandates.
County Health Department Director Patrice Lambert provided the then-latest data Monday during a morning meeting of the county Board of Supervisors.
She reported that, as of 9 a.m. Monday, the county’s confirmed COVID-19 total had climbed by 915 cases since Oct. 5.
And by population, the areas outside of the city of Dubuque had more than their share of those new diagnoses.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2018 — the most recent available by ZIP code — the three ZIP codes that include Dubuque make up 74% of the county ZIP codes’ total population. The other 13 ZIP codes in Dubuque County contain the other 26%.
Based on the data presented Monday, 29% of the new cases since Oct. 5 have been reported in those 13 ZIP codes.
So, Lambert said she would go to the smaller communities’ city councils with the new data and ask them to consider acting. County supervisors voted, 2-1, last month against issuing a countywide mask mandate.
“Since there’s not a mandate for masks in the county, we’ll be asking each of the city council members if they would consider a mask mandate in their town, if at all possible,” Lambert said.
The supervisors’ vote last month followed a letter and public pleas from 15 mayors of the county’s smaller cities — those other than the city of Dubuque — for supervisors to deny the resolution.
The mayors, including Dyersville’s Jim Heavens, argued that the countywide mandate would violate the spirit of home rule, or their councils’ authority to govern their own municipalities.
On Monday night, Lambert made the first plea to one of those city councils — the one in Dyersville.
Heavens asked a list of questions, probing the need for a mandate in the city, but said he in no way wanted to “diminish the wearing of masks.”
“We’re all feeling along this thing, not knowing what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said. “We want to do what’s right for the people, but we’re walking a fine line between mandates and what’s right.”
City Council Member Tom Westhoff said it looked like the City of Dubuque’s mandate had been effective, given college students’ return there from other places.
Council action on a mandate was not on the meeting’s agenda, so no action was taken.
While public health officials are discussing measures with the smaller cities in the county, the bulk of new cases still are occurring in the three ZIP codes that include portions of Dubuque. The 52001 area had 379 new cases; 52002 had 119; and 52003 had 150.
But some of the smaller cities racked up significant cases as well in the last two weeks. The Dyersville ZIP code had 85 new cases, for example.
The county also released new data showing what percentage of the population of each ZIP code had tested positive for COVID-19 so far. The Farley ZIP code led the way with about 7%. In Dyersville’s ZIP code, nearly 6% of the population had.
County public health officials also for the first time released ZIP-code-level data on the number of people who had been diagnosed with the coronavirus but had since recovered.
In the three Dubuque ZIP codes, 1,208 — or 37% of their total positive cases since the pandemic began — are listed by the state as having not yet recovered. In the Dyersville ZIP code, that number is 154, or 39%. In the Peosta/Centralia area, that was 65, or 32%.
Altogether, the county had 1,606 cases still active as of Monday morning. Board of Supervisors interim Executive Director Ed Raber said that total is the second-highest in the state, behind only Polk County.
“We’re still on the wrong side of this,” he said. “Our peak number of active cases is today.”
Lambert said she hopes this information leads to people better following public health recommendations that help slow the spread of the virus.
“We know that all of these mitigation strategies have to go hand in hand,” she said. “Just wearing masks won’t solve our problems. We have to do the others: maintain 6 feet from each other, reduce the amount of people at our gatherings as much as we can, washing our hands as much as we can. And, again, we cannot stress enough staying at home if you’re ill. That includes going to school, going to work, going to the grocery store. And if we can reduce our shopping trips to a minimal amount, that would be better than anything.”