The Dubuque County Board of Supervisors will meet with county mayors next week to discuss a contentious proposal to mandate mask use countywide.
At a regular board meeting Monday, the supervisors set a work session for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8, to discuss a recommendation of a mask mandate forwarded last week by the Dubuque County Board of Health.
If approved by the supervisors, the mandate would require people older than age 3 wear face coverings in interior public spaces and businesses, as well as when they are outside if they are unable to maintain 6 feet of distance from others.
The mandate would cover the entirety of the county, except for the City of Dubuque, which already has a mandate in place. Businesses would be prohibited from serving people who enter their premises without masks, under the proposed mandate.
It has drawn opposition, including concerns detailed in a letter from the mayors of 14 Dubuque County cities — Bankston, Cascade, Durango, Dyersville, Epworth, Farley, Holy Cross, Luxemburg, New Vienna, Peosta, Rickardsville, Sageville, Sherrill and Worthington.
“People who live in the county need to be part of this decision,” Holy Cross Mayor Brian Maiers said Monday.
Maiers was one of the signatories of the letter, which the mayors submitted to board of health members ahead of a public hearing that took place on Aug. 26. The board of health unanimously approved the recommended mask mandate during a meeting that followed the public hearing.
“We heard from a good cross-section of county residents, with 115 written comments and 25 speakers,” said Tom Bechen, chairman of the board of health. “The comments were about right down the middle, supporting a mask mandate and opposing a mask mandate.”
Mayor Wayne Kenniker, of Sageville, told supervisors Monday that the board of health’s public hearing seemed insufficient to accommodate varied views on the proposal. Kenniker also signed the mayors’ letter of opposition.
“The deliberation by the board of health made after the public hearing seemed somewhat of a process, more than a valid time for input,” Kenniker said. “It’s time businesses are heard and citizens are heard.”
Kenniker welcomed the opportunity to meet with the supervisors in a work-session setting.
“A work session would allow for input to be used wisely,” he said.
Dave Baker, chairman of the board of supervisors, said the upcoming work session also will enable county officials to review the legality of the proposed mandate with Dubuque County Attorney C.J. May III.
“This is a first for most of us in our lifetime, and we want to make sure we do it right,” Baker said.
Dubuque County Public Health meeting
The vote by Dubuque County Public Health, Aug. 26, followed nearly two hours of divided public input on the issue from residents in the county. Twenty-five people spoke during the hearing, many emotionally, with 15 against the mandate and 10 for it.
Jessica Mihalakis opposes a mandate and spoke of the division she feels in the community.
“I’ve never seen more people more terrified of a person who walks into a business without a mask when everyone else has a mask,” she said.
Mary Smith, though, said she lost her husband to issues related to COVID-19 in July and pleaded for passage.
“Is Dubuque County just going to nothing?” she asked. “Mandate mask-wearing at least through Sept. 30. It’s just not that much.”
Ahead of the meeting Aug. 26, 101 members of the public chose to send written comments — totaling 59 pages — to the Board of Health and Board of Supervisors, regarding the proposed mandate.
Of those, 52 were against, while 49 were for it.
Six other self-identified members of the county’s medical community spoke and were divided as well, it seemed, in their opinions.
Dr. Andy DeWitt voiced opposition to the mandate, saying he did not believe there has been enough research to prove masks’ effectiveness.
“There are no definitive studies that masks work,” he said. “Your grandma’s in the nursing home. If masks worked, they would let you go in and visit Grandma if you wore a mask. And the medical establishment and the penal system agree.”
Nurse Sue Whitty, though, said health care workers have long known that masks help prevent the spread of disease.
“When we have immunocompromised patients, we know us wearing a mask helps keep them from contracting disease,” she said, adding that a patient with a contagious disease also is required to wear a mask inside facilities to stop the spread.
County Supervisor Ann McDonough, having previously said she planned to vote along with the Board of Health’s recommendations, spoke against issuing a mandate on Aug. 26, saying Home Rule applies to the county’s smaller cities as well.
“This is a heavy-handed approach that may not be advised and may lead us to an outcome we’re not in charge of,” she said.
Iowa Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, too, spoke out against the mandate, stressing Gov. Kim Reynolds’ insistence that it is beyond local authority. She also questioned its effectiveness.
Among written comments submitted, many of those against the mandate said it tread upon their freedom, rights or liberty. Many insisted it was not enforceable. Several expressed concerns for those most vulnerable but urged them, instead, to quarantine. Several wrote that they would not comply.
Many of those in favor cited their concern for the vulnerable population or their own vulnerability. Many claimed they were concerned about the reopening of schools and colleges. Many cited scientific evidence or guidance from medical experts as their reasoning.
Proponents weren’t alone in that, though. Plenty of opponents to the mandate also cited scientific evidence and medical providers they know, sometimes the same as those in favor.