Iowa lifts mask mandate, gathering restrictions as U.K. variant surges

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie announced Saturday that the city’s mask mandate will remain and disparaged Reynolds’s “confusing” decision, arguing 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 responded with a sharp rejection to the new orders and said Saturday it will also continue to maintain 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,” a statement from City Manager Geoff Fruin said, 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.”

Reynolds’s latest 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 implement their own judgment and precautions.

The proclamation also urged businesses remaining open and 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, ” Reynolds’s proclamation states.

The restriction follows a drop in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the state. But with emerging virus mutations and a slow vaccination process, experts and heath officials repeatedly have urged the public to continue to use masks and even upgrade them, as well as other precautions such as social distancing.

The governor’s decision also arrived as new reports have found that the highly contagious variant first discovered in the United Kingdom is spreading rapidly across the United States and has been detected in Iowa.

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 wrote in a news release.

“Now is not the time to put our guard down. We have to be more diligent than ever,” Cownie added, saying the use of masks is “part of the solution” to keeping citizens healthy.

Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) called the decision “short-sighted, ill-conceived, and dangerous.”

Reynold’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 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.”

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