Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Mask-mandate decision, punted to local Iowa officials by governor, causes political upheaval in at least one county

Dubuque County, Iowa (Wikipedia map)
The question of whether to wear masks in public has unexpectedly become a political issue in one Iowa county, and likely in others across the country, Dan Diamond reports for Politico.

The issue was politicized from the beginning, after President Trump expressed disdain for masking early on in the pandemic, even after leading scientists supported it, Diamond notes. In June, Vice President Mike Pence said each state could decide its masking policy. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, refused to enforce a statewide policy, saying it was a "feel-good" measure that wouldn't save lives.

That left major debates on pandemic response with county and small-town officials, "who have little or no formal health training, may be working as volunteers or part-time and admit to scrounging the internet as they try to shape what experts portray as life-and-death choices," Diamond reports.

In Dubuque County, the all-volunteer health board has been urging the county supervisors to mandate masks since early August. Since then, the county's coronavirus infections have more than tripled and deaths have more than doubled, Diamond reports. But two of the three supervisors have sided with Wayne Kenniker, a local utility owner and small-town mayor who opposes such a mandate.

Now more than a dozen small-town mayors in the county "have banded together to cast doubt on the legal authority of a mask mandate and the health board's own procedures," Diamond reports. In an Aug. 26 letter to the supervisors, the mayors wrote that a mask mandate "would demonstrate a use of questionable authority and it would undermine the core values that define rural Iowa."

The masking debate "has animated the politics of a state that was thought to be in the bag for President Donald Trump but now appears to be a seesaw battle, with Trump making a last-minute visit to Dubuque on Sunday," Diamond reports. Kenniker "worried that a mask mandate would eventually lead to a vaccine mandate too. He also cast doubt on the county's official covid-19 data, claiming the figures were inflated to inspire fear and even make Trump look bad."

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