Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie (D) announced Saturday that the city’s mask mandate will remain and criticized Reynolds’s “confusing” decision, saying it “can’t be rationalized with the number of positive cases we continue to see across the state and here in Polk County.”
Iowa City, which instituted a mask mandate in July long before the Republican governor followed suit, also rejected the new order and said Saturday that it will continue with its mask mandate.
“Iowa City’s mask order is not impacted by the Governor’s latest order and is still in place through May 31, 2021,” said a statement from City Manager Geoff Fruin, according to the Des Moines Register. “Residents should continue to wear masks in public spaces within Iowa City in accordance with the City’s order.”
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart (R) also announced this weekend that the city will continue to mandate the use of face coverings in public despite state orders. And the Ames City Council extended until June 30 an ordinance adopted in September requiring face coverings.
Reynolds’s emergency proclamation, issued Friday and effective Sunday, lifted a limited mask mandate that was issued in November long after many states had already instituted such measures. The new order rolled back social distancing for bars, restaurants, casinos, fitness centers and other establishments, as well as social gatherings, urging people instead to “be safe” and use their own judgment.
The governor “encouraged Iowans, businesses and organizations to take reasonable public health measures consistent with guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health,” Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett told the Des Moines Register.
The proclamation also urged businesses that remain open and those with in-person operations “to take reasonable measures under the circumstances of each establishment to ensure the health of employees, patrons and members of the public.”
The move follows a drop in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the state. But with emerging virus variants and a slow vaccination campaign nationwide, experts and heath officials repeatedly have urged the public to continue to use masks and even upgrade them, as well as maintain social distancing.
The mayor of Des Moines acknowledged that threat on Saturday.
“With an alarmingly more transmissible version of the virus now detected in Iowa, it is more important than ever that our residents and visitors follow the advice of medical experts, keep social distance and whenever out in public, wear a mask,” Cownie said in a news release.
“Now is not the time to put our guard down. We have to be more diligent than ever,” he added, saying the use of masks is “part of the solution” to keeping people healthy.
Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) called the governor’s decision “shortsighted, ill-conceived and dangerous.”
Reynolds’s new guidelines stand in contrast with President Biden’s desire for the universal use of masks as a core strategy to ending the pandemic. The president has mandated face coverings on planes, in airports and in all federal buildings, and he has urged Americans to mask up for three months until vaccinations reach the majority of the population.
“It’s time to end the politicization of basic, responsible public health steps like mask-wearing and social distancing,” Biden said on his first day in office. “The single most effective thing we can do to stop the spread of covid: Wear a mask.”