Dubuque County supervisors voted unanimously on Friday afternoon to extend the countywide mask mandate.
Following more than 30 minutes of contentious public input during an online meeting, the supervisors voted to follow the lead of the county Board of Health, which also approved the resolution unanimously last week.
County Supervisor Harley Pothoff assured listeners during Friday’s meeting that he had put much thought into the issue.
“I’ve had many engaging conversations with people on both sides of this,” he said. “I’ve spoken with medical professionals, both on the Board of Health and elsewhere. My greatest fear is turning around and going back down the road we just came here from. If I err, I want to err on the side of safety.”
The mask mandate, instituted in November in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, requires that anyone older than 2 wear face coverings in indoor public spaces and outdoor public areas where social distancing is not possible. Businesses are required to post signage stating that they require masks and to provide masks for customers who do not bring their own.
The mandate covers all of Dubuque County outside of the city of Dubuque, which has its own mandate.
The county mandate until Friday had a sunset of Monday, March 1.
The extension keeps it in place until June 15, until qualified individuals in the Phase 1B category — including those 65-and-older and front-line essential workers — have received a COVID-19 vaccine if they want it, or until the mandate is rescinded by the county Board of Health.
Supervisor Ann McDonough said she based her decision on the advice of medical professionals, including the doctors and nurses in her family.
“What I hear over family Zooms matches what I heard from the Board of Health,” she said. “And the Board of Health listened to some of our concerns and included an end date, which I hope we can shorten if we get a large amount of the vaccine.”
Supervisor Jay Wickham said the resolution was the strongest message that county leaders could send.
“From my vantage point, the coronavirus is still in our community, in the tri-state area,” he said. “One of the proactive measures we can put in place is to educate the community the best we can.”
County supervisors approved their mask mandate in November days before Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds instituted less-restrictive statewide rules, which she lifted earlier this month. Local officials have consistently argued that they have the right to pass their own mandates — a stance that contradicts what the governor and state attorney general’s office have asserted.
As of 5 p.m. Nov. 12, the day when county supervisors voted to put the mandate in place, there were 7,312 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dubuque County to date. That included 119 new cases in the previous 24 hours.
A total of 76 related deaths had been reported, and there were 2,746 active cases. The 14-day positivity rate had climbed to nearly 24%, and local hospital leaders called for a mandate as their facilities faced a deluge of cases from Dubuque County and beyond. There were 43 Dubuque County residents with COVID-19 who were hospitalized.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, 12,345 county residents have been confirmed to have COVID-19 to date, including 11 in the previous 24 hours. The number of related deaths has swelled to 194, and there were 528 active cases. Eleven county residents with COVID-19 were hospitalized. The county’s 14-day positivity rate was 3.5%, according to the state, though it has changed the way that the 14-day rate is calculated since November.
Most of those who spoke during the public input portion of Friday’s meeting were opposed to an extension of the mandate.
Kelley Duehr told stories of her children suffering from brain health and substance abuse issues that she tied in part to the mask mandate.
“Even the highest-performing students are struggling,” she claimed. “The concern for the elderly, but not for my kids, is offensive to me.”
Nicole Wolf-Murphy said health conditions keep her from wearing a mask.
“I don’t want to be harassed or looked at like I am the problem or am trying to harm someone when I go into a business without a mask,” she said. “I may be the minority in the Dubuque area, but I should also be protected from harassment.”
There is a provision in the mandate that exempts those with health conditions from wearing a mask.
Sageville Mayor Wayne Kenniker again criticized the mandate and the process for considering an extension.
He also pointed out that the majority of verbal comments in public meetings have been against the mandate, asking how that compared to the written comments submitted to the Board of Health before its public hearing on the extension this week.
McDonough provided those comments to the Telegraph Herald. There were 19 in support of an extension, 11 against it and one comment in which the author’s position on the issue was unclear.
But nurse Carol Chesterman said during her public comment Friday that the measure was not a “numbers game.”
“This is about looking at the accuracy and validity of the comments made and trusting the recommendation made by the Board of Health,” she said.