The Dubuque County Board of Health changed directions on its proposed extension of the county’s existing mask mandate, adding a sunset date and a vaccination goal.
The new resolution — approved, 5-0, by board members Thursday night — still would extend the current mandate past its sunset of March 1. But it would extend it only “until modified, rescinded or extended, or the Dubuque County COVID-19 Incident Management Team declares that Phase 1B (of vaccination) is completed in Dubuque County, or by June 15, whichever comes sooner.”
At a previous meeting, the Board of Health unanimously approved extending the mask mandate until it is rescinded.
The latest action followed a Dubuque County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday, during which Supervisors Ann McDonough and Harley Pothoff voiced support for the extension but a preference that a sunset date or other metric be included. Supervisor Jay Wickham also is in support of an extension.
“We need to extend this mandate. If that takes putting a date on it so people have trust in us, so be it,” said Board of Health Vice Chairwoman Diane Pape-Freiburger on Thursday. “We also have to recognize that the numbers are down because people have been following mitigation strategies. We don’t want that to stop.”
She said June 15 would be after the school year ends. And she said if positive case counts rise after that date, the board can put the mandate back in place.
Thursday’s version of the extension also saw support from one of the Board of Health’s newest members, Dr. Hendrik Schultz, chief medical officer for Medical Associates Clinics and Health Plans.
He based his comment on estimates of about 10,000 county residents being vaccinated with at least one dose, about 10,000 residents having tested positive and 20,000 residents who were positive but asymptomatic or untested.
“We’d have 40,000, about 40% of Dubuque County — that’s not herd immunity yet. That’s not enough to affect future spread,” he said.
Schultz first proposed ending the mask mandate after finishing the vaccination of the Phase 1B demographic groups that qualify now. He hoped that this would protect individuals who are at least 65, who he said make up around 25% of the county’s population and are more susceptible to strong reactions and death from COVID-19.
“If you’ll allow me a northern German expression, then we’ll ‘have the cow off the ice,’” he said. “We’ll have the highest vulnerable population taken out of the risk zone. There’s no real timeline to that. It would depend on how fast we can vaccinate.”
Phase 1B also includes prekindergarten through high school staff, early childhood education and child care workers, and first responders — including firefighters, police officers and dependent-adult-abuse and child-welfare social workers. It also includes lawmakers and staff at the Capitol in Des Moines. After those, it includes staff front-line workers in manufacturing and food production operations.
Sageville Mayor Wayne Kenniker — who opposed past attempts at a countywide mask mandate — voiced consternation with this as well during public comment. He pointed out that the county does not know how many residents who qualify under Phase 1B want the vaccine. He also said many people over 65 might not understand how to get the vaccine.
“It’s a little bit concerning, at least to me, that a mask mandate is hinging on a fair amount of uncertainty at this point,” he said.
The Board of Health already published a notice of a public hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 17, for the previously approved version of the extended mask mandate resolution. So, Thursday’s actions cause some procedural delays.
The public hearing for this new version will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 24. The Board of Supervisors still would have to approve the resolution for it to take effect.