The County Board of Health has approved an ordinance mandating the use of face coverings in public, which the county attorney says will be enforceable. Kim Bergen-Jackson, administrator of Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City, says the order will help save the lives of her residents.
“This is not a political problem for me. It is not a hoax or a joke,” Bergen-Jackson says. “We’re not gambling with your life, but the lives of my friends, my 70-, 80-, 90- and 100-year-old friends, who want to be here to live another year older.”
The ordinance now goes to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors for final approval. State officials say local governments don’t have the authority to issue such mandates. Meanwhile, nearly 300 faculty members and graduate student instructors at the University of Iowa signed a petition calling for a priority to be placed on online classes this fall.
The U-I is moving many large classes online, but says face-to-face instruction will still be prioritized for classes with fewer than 50 students. Megan Knight is an associate professor in the U-I Department of Rhetoric.
“A lot of my colleagues feel sort of caught between a rock and a hard place,” Knight says. “They’re really frightened about job insecurity and they’re frightened of the risk of face-to-face classroom teaching during a global pandemic.” Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter says she’s concerned because the university says it will not require students to be tested for COVID-19 before returning this fall.
“That’s thousands and thousands of people coming into our city that’s not even being tested or won’t have to quarantine,” Porter says. “We don’t know what they have when they get here.” Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa are also holding some in-person classes this fall.
One Iowa county plans to reclaim responsibility for local contact tracing because its public health department takes issue with the state’s efforts to track coronavirus. Black Hawk County had one of the nation’s largest coronavirus clusters in April due to an outbreak at a Tyson plant.
The state public health department has been in charge of their contact tracing since then, but county public health director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye says the state isn’t adequately following patients through quarantine and recovery. “I don’t believe that that’s a part that the state is doing just because of the amount of disease investigation they have to do,” Egbuonye says, “and so we’re looking to have our health care providers do that also.”
Black Hawk County plans to hire another epidemiologist and 20 part-time contact tracers to track the virus locally.
(By Kate Payne and Natalie Krebs, Iowa Public Radio)