Supervisors mull mask mandate as COVID-19 cases rise

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Clay County Board of Supervisors convened Tuesday morning and met with representatives from Spencer Hospital, Spencer Schools, Clay County Public Health, Clay County Attorney’s Office and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office to discuss the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic in Clay County and discuss potential actions the county may be able to take in the future to make an impact against the spread of the virus.

“Numbers wise as of this morning we are at 913 cases I believe and that’s cumulative since this pandemic started at the end of March for us,” Clay County Public Health Coordinator Colette Rossiter said. “It is growing, we’re averaging between 25 and 30 new cases every day. No exact population, it’s across the board. Obviously we’re seeing increased hospitalizations which is concerning. It’s not unique to Clay County obviously, this is nationwide, Iowa wide. It is something very concerning for us here.”

“Hospitalizations are at their peak locally, in the state, throughout the United States and deaths in our region are also at their peak,” Spencer Hospital CEO Bill Bumgarner said. “It matches the high peak of deaths we had in the initial phase of the pandemic, we’re approaching those rates again. In the Iowa Lakes Corridor, … we’ve had 48 people pass away due to COVID. It is a real threat to the health of our community.”

In discussion with hospital officials, an estimate made was that Clay County’s case count is on a trajectory to double within a month if conditions remain the same. The group gathered inside the Clay County Administration Building discussed the success of masking requirements within the hospital and schools, whose total illness rate has stayed under 3% to date.

The supervisors and guests discussed the process to establish a mask mandate in the county, which is possible via the board passing a resolution approving recommendations made by the Clay County Board of Public Health.

“In Clay County three-fourths of our people are in Spencer,” Supervisor Barry Anderson said. “Like in my small town, Greenville, I have one business and our business has said if you’re going to come in it’s for essential and you’re supposed to wear a mask. We don’t have any say over usually what Spencer does in their businesses, so I guess I just wondered, it is kind of a pull and tug. Chris (Raveling, Clay County sheriff), you don’t ave any say over Spencer, but what happens if we get into a business where we put in a county ordinance, somebody walks into a store without a mask on, as law enforcement, how would you do it in the county to try to enforce this?”

“I think part of that, goes back to I think if we enforce our county, if the county puts a mandate out there it helps the business to say ‘look, it’s a mandate, the county wants this; I want to comply with what the county wants, we need you to put a mask on,’” Raveling said. “At that point if the person doesn’t want to wear a mask they need to ask them to leave. If they don’t leave now you’re looking at a trespassing issue and it’s not a mask issue at that point it’s a trespassing issue. Those businesses have the right to refuse service. And I get it, ‘well if that person then doesn’t wear a mask and they walk out they’ll never come back again.’ I’ve heard that a million times too on traffic tickets, ‘if you write me a traffic ticket I’ll never come to Spencer again.’ Well, you know what I mean? We can’t sit there and go ‘gosh I’ll never write a ticket again because I’d like to keep people from coming to our city’ but I think we definitely have to look at it as what can we do to help our businesses? And again, I don’t think the right thing is to write someone a ticket for not wearing it but maybe have that discussion with those businesses to say ‘look at this point we’re asking you to leave if you don’t wear a mask.’”

Clay County Attorney Travis Johnson discussed face-covering mandates established in the state including Story County’s mask mandate which features no penalties, saying because of the countywide face-covering regulation other businesses and facilities started to follow suit in mandating mask wearing. If Clay County were to pursue such a mandate in the future, Johnson advised the board against a mandate with penalties.

“It’s rare to go there and see anyone without a mask,” Johnson said. “It did work even without a penalty and I think it alleviated a lot of the business concerns about being the one to do it without looking like they’re forced to do it. … By having the county have something in place it allowed those businesses to say ‘hey, it’s the law in the county right now so we’re all going to be doing this.’ It kind of took off the heat them to make that change.”

Members of the board stressed a desire for unity within the county behind such a mandate from the townships of Clay County but in further discussion it was alleged that under such a county regulation, cities and towns would have the ability to pass an ordinance making the county’s resolution non-applicable within their community. Additional discussion and any formal action will take place at a future Clay County Board of Supervisors meeting.

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