Page County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion Thursday morning recommending masks be worn in all county buildings except the annex where Page County Public Health is located in Clarinda, where masks will be required.
During the Feb. 9 supervisors meeting, Page County Engineer JD King asked for mask guidance for his department following Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds's change to the public health emergency declaration that took effect on Feb. 7.
To address wearing masks, the Page County Board of Supervisors held a meeting on Feb. 11 to discuss a county building mask policy where supervisors asked for Public Health Administrator Jessica Erdman's recommendations.
“I would like to see a countywide mandate issued,” said Erdman. “I did talk with the executive director with Iowa Public Health Association and she said that the supervisors can issue that mandate if they would like to do so.”
Erdman felt after visiting with businesses in the county that some would like the county's support in enforcing masks to be worn in their place of business.
“If you guys don’t want to do a countywide mandate, I would say at a minimum I would like to see a mandate within the county buildings,” said Erdman. “I can say for here in the Annex we definitely want a countywide mandate.”
Erdman said her request for masks being required in the Annex was due to the amount of traffic in and out of the building where many of those individuals fall into the elderly population.
“I think it's very important to keep everybody safe,” said Erdman. “Just like the social distancing that is a big key in helping slow the spread. We’ve done a great job. We’ve gotten our numbers down here in the county and in the state. To me, I think it’s a little crazy to go backward is what it seems like we’re doing here is we're going backward.”
Supervisor Jacob Holmes voiced his reluctance in issuing a county-wide mandate to wear masks and said, “I myself don’t agree.”
“Currently, the numbers in Page County as of yesterday is 28 active cases over 14 days combined,” said Holmes. “Meaning out of 15,250 people, we have 99.8% that are not currently testing positive over 14 days.”
Erdman explained one reason the number of active, positive county cases was low is because of lack of testing.
“We’ve also seen a massive decrease in testing,” said Erdman. “We’re testing maybe five people a day. You can see that our county-wide positivity rate is a little higher and that is because people aren't testing, but those people who are testing are coming out positive.”
Supervisor Alan Armstrong said he had heard of instances in Shenandoah where employees were sent home from work without being required to test for COVID-19. He said protecting customers in his place of business is important and the lack of some employers requiring testing concerns him.
“So, therefore, numbers are numbers and you can spit them out any way you want to, but if people aren’t going to get tested and they are positive and going home, that really can skew everything.”
Supervisor Chair Chuck Morris voiced his respect for Erdman’s field of work and opinion on a mask mandate but asked her to elaborate, saying, “When you do a mandate, what does that look like?”
Erdman said in her opinion, a county mandate would be more about the county showing their support of wearing masks when social distancing is not possible and about educating the public rather than taking drastic measures such as fining people.
“I look at it more of a respect thing,” said Erdman. “It’s just respecting those people around you.”
Holmes countered Erdman’s statement about businesses saying he had received emails and calls from businesses and individuals against the county government issuing a mask mandate.
“You’re entering into a giant amount of paperwork and rules and definitions for people who can’t wear masks and trying to create something that cannot be enforced,” said Holmes.
Erdman said exceptions would be made for individuals that could not wear masks and said, “I would like to know why people are so admittedly against wearing masks.”
“People have choices,” said Holmes. “Everyone gets to decide how they mitigate their risk. "There’s lots of issues where are you going to stop this. Hand washing is pretty effective too who is going to mandate that stuff.”
“I have to look at it through the eyes of public health,” said Erdman. “It's not just a matter of mitigating their own risks. It's those around them.”
During the Thursday morning meeting, several county electives spoke, expressing their desire to have it recommended to wear a mask in county buildings not required. King also shared his view on a mask mandate.
King said he wants to keep his employees in compliance with the rules but expressed his desire not to have a mask mandate for the secondary road buildings. He said social distancing and the requirement of wearing masks had hampered the departments' efficiency.
“Certainly, if a road worker wants to wear a mask, he can certainly wear a mask, but I don’t want to require masks,” said King.
Erdman said she believes wearing masks when social distancing is not possible during the pandemic to benefit workplaces.
“To me, it makes it more efficient because if people aren’t wearing masks and you're exposed to somebody, you're going in quarantine,” said Erdman. “You can’t work. Whereas if both parties are wearing a mask, the exposed person can continue to work.”
Morris described the situation by saying, “It’s a sticky wicked.” He expressed hesitance in issuing a mandate and said, “I don’t know what the right answer is.”
“I’m glad that our numbers are starting to decelerate,” said Morris.
Based on information he has read, Morris believes that wearing masks and social distancing has played a role in the decline of positive cases. A heightened concern of his is the variants of the COVID-19 virus that is currently spreading across the country.
“I’m not a health expert, don’t pretend to be,” said Morris. “I think that people do have a personal responsibility, but I do also believe that the masks are not for personal protection totally. I believe that they’re for the protection of your neighbors who may be impacted if you are one of those who is infected with no symptoms.”
Armstrong said opinions on mask requirements vary from business to business.
“Whether we make a mandate or whether the Governor makes a mandate, the people that don’t want to follow it aren't going to do that no matter what when it's their own private business,” said Armstrong. “They're probably going to buck the rule when there are no ways to punish or penalize them.”