Mask Up

Wear a mask in public. It’s required.

That’s the new message from the Jackson County Board of Supervisors, which unanimously approved a countywide mask mandate effective Nov. 17.

The county resolution requires everyone age 3 and older to wear a face covering in public, interior spaces and outdoor spaces if they cannot maintain 6 feet of social distance. This includes grocery stores, pharmacies, retail stores, etc.

People do not need to wear a mask when exercising or while seated at a food or bar establishment and eating or drinking. However, they must wear a mask up until they reach their seats.

People at risk of suffocation, who have trouble breathing, or who have been told by a health or legal professional not to wear face coverings are exempt.

People will not be fined for not wearing a mask; the mandate’s intent is to limit the spread of the virus, not to punish or stigmatize people, according to county attorney Sara Davenport, who said the county’s resolution is stricter than the guidelines set out Nov. 16 by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Supervisors chairman Mike Steines agreed.

“We’re not trying to take away anyone’s rights,” Steines said. “We’re just trying to look after everyone’s health.”

The county mandate reverses a position the supervisors took on July 14. Then, Steines said he didn’t think the board had the authority to mandate wearing a mask, and Willey said it’s a matter of personal choice. So, the board issued a statement “highly recommending” people wear masks at that time.  

However, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Jackson County has increased since that decision. At that time, the county reported about 62 positive cases. As of the Nov. 17 supervisors meeting, that number increased 20-fold to 1,251.

The safety and wellbeing of the county’s dwindling number of emergency medical service volunteers tipped the scales for Steines. He said an increasing number of medical calls involved people who have COVID-19, which puts those frontline medical workers at risk of exposure when there is already a shortage of the volunteers.

“We know that we have a problem, and we want to do everything we can do to stay safe,” supervisor Jack Willey said Nov. 17.

Steines said he called all the town mayors in the county and all gave their support for a countywide mask mandate.

Maquoketa will support the county’s mask mandate, Mayor Don Schwenker said during a Maquoketa City Council meeting the previous evening.

“If they choose to (issue a mask mandate), we’ll support it wholeheartedly to get through this trying time,” Schwenker said.

The supervisors rarely draw many public visitors, especially since the pandemic struck. However, more than a half-dozen county residents joined the meeting via online meeting app to speak out in favor of a mask ordinance.

Cheryl Curl called the rampant COVID-19 spread “just woefully awful in Jackson County and urged support for a mask mandate.

Maquoketa councilwoman and Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center employee Erica Barker also advocated for the mask mandate, saying the MVRBC is in dire need of blood and plasma donations. With the rampant spread of the virus, many local entities have cancelled their blood drives, thereby decreasing collections while the need for them never decreases.

Pastor Will Layton, who leads congregations in St. Donatus and LaMotte, noted that while no one wants a lockdown, many vulnerable individuals already are suffering from a lockdown away from family and friends. He added that a county mandate takes the pressure off business owners who already chose to require masks but felt like “the bad guy.” Now those owners have a county mandate on their side, Layton said.

The mandate is in effect until April 1, 2021, or unless the supervisors change it.

Jackson’s northern neighbor Dubuque County had already issued a mask mandate. To the south, Clinton County did not have a mandate as of Sunday.