BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – The Lee County Board of Health is one step closer to implementing a mask requirement for county residents.
At a public hearing this morning held via teleconference, close to 45 people listened, and about 18 of them commented against a countywide mask mandate.
Despite the concerns brought forward, the Board of Health unanimously voted to move the mask regulation to the Lee County Board of Supervisors. Board of Health member Dr. David Wenger-Keller was absent from the hearing.
The hearing lasted one hour with several people making multiple comments saying the move is an overreach of authority, medically unnecessary, and impedes civil liberties.
Lee County Attorney Ross Braden said the regulation now goes to the Board of Supervisor for approval. Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said the resolution will be in front of the board on Tuesday.
“They have authority to approve it or shut it down. It’s not effective yet,” Braden said.
He said Wednesday morning that he hopes the supervisors vote against the measure because the courts are already log jammed and this would add additional pressure to that situation, as well as putting law enforcement in contact with people not wearing masks.
Braden said he plans on attending Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to speak on the proposed regulation.
“I hope they don’t (pass it). The current positivity rate for 14 days is down to 8.3%. When this was brought up we were north of 17-18%. Maybe it should have been done in July or August,” he said.
“This is going to force substantial contact with people not wearing masks, but from my perspective we have a huge backlog from March when everything shut down. Jury trials just began this week statewide. We are swamped, the court system is swamped, and it would be incredible to me to further bog down the system with something like this.”
Board member Dr. Philip Caropreso said it’s the mission of the board to protect the health of all county residents. He said he appreciated the opinions of everyone on the call, but said that represents about .004% of the county.
“The mission of the Lee County Health Department is to protect health, prevent disease and promote the well-being of all persons in Lee County,” Caropreso said.
“The original action of the board was to follow those tenants and there was no other intention.”
As a former physician Caropreso said he’s dealt with masks as much as anyone and has evidence and literature to support there effectiveness. He also said the regulation does no more to infringe on civil liberties than other socially acceptable laws.
“If people want to discuss further, lets talk about red lights, driving on the right side of the road… speed limits, do they impede our civil liberties.? Wearing clothes? Nudity is not an acceptable action. We must wear clothes,” he said.
The board did change language in the penalty section from the word “shall” to “may” to allow for greater discretion on the part of law enforcement in Lee County. Violations of the regulation would be simple misdemeanors.
The mandate does not require all people to have masks on all the time. There are exceptions to include: those executing proper social distancing in public, while driving alone or with household family, eating in public places, moderate to high intensity workouts, anyone under the age of 2, or those with medical exemptions.
Fort Madison resident Tom Schulz called the move an overreach of regulatory powers, and said numbers of positive cases around the county are reducing.
“The virus is following same patterns as nationally. You’ll see the same rate of cases on any state or national map. This is unnecessary and a significant overreach of regulatory powers,” Schulz said.
Jennifer Marshall of Donnellson said healthy people getting COVID is what makes the virus less damaging to those that are susceptible to its more severe impacts.
“If I get COVID, I get it and the next person will get it less. Viruses become weaker as they pass through the population,” Marshall said.
“We’re not letting the virus go through. I know some people are going to get sick, and nobody wants that, but we have to let healthy people get this virus so it’s not so critical to others.”
Jim Steffen of Argyle told the board if the resolution was passed he was going to propose civil action against those responsible for putting in place.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber pleaded with the board to, instead, enact a recommendation to wear masks and educate the public on the benefits, a move originally offered by Lee County Health Department Administrator Michele Ross.
“Allow us to concentrate on things that are very important to us, like making sure we’re out here on the highways and making sure we can answer the calls.,” Weber said from his cruiser on Hwy 2.
“If this passes I’m also concerned that people will cram up the 911 lines and hinder the help someone will be getting. I just don’t think this is something we can enforce.”
Gary Seyb Jr., from Keokuk followed up and said if the mandate isn’t going to be enforced, it’s no mandate at all. He also pointed to no one at the hearing speaking in favor of the proposed regulation.
“The board should consider the number of calls and not one person has called in supporting the mask mandate. Not one,” He said. “Consider everything that has been said. I have not talked to maybe or or two people in the county that are for it. People understand this disease and they are looking at it.”
The regulation would require masks in public or outside when one cannot social distance at six feet, in retail outlets, schools, and other public settings that are not one’s place of residence.