The Waverly City Council on Monday night voted to require anyone who would enter several public buildings to wear a face covering to control the spread of COVID-19.
The resolution passed on a 5-2 vote, with At-Large Councilman Matt Schneider and Ward 4 Councilwoman Heather Beaufore voting "no." Ward 5 Councilman Tim Kangas also added an amendment to have the policy be reviewed on a monthly basis for renewal.
City Administrator James Bronner said the resolution was added upon request due to a change in the climate of the virus' spread. He noted pressure from the public and staff to have some sort of mask policy.
"We expect people to be reasonable when entering city buildings and to behave in that manner," Bronner said.
He said that the city has placed plexiglass shields to keep the public from sneezing and coughing onto staff members. However, he said some have bypassed those shields and still sneezed and coughed on employees.
"We've been looking at putting masks on for staff ourselves, and we are addressing it this week internally, in order to protect the public," he said. "I think the reciprocal should happen, as well, have the public wear them to protect our staff."
Bronner added that if the public won't adhere to the policy, or if behavior doesn't improve, the next recourse would be to close the public buildings and only have them available by appointment.
Beaufore agrees that people should be respectful and protect their own and others' health, but there are inconsistencies in COVID-19 prevention.
"I think that nobody really knows the best answer," Beaufore said. "I do know that with a combination, not just one thing or the other, can help reduce the spread.
"Masks are not the only thing that is going to reduce the spread. You have washing your hands as well. You have 'Don't touch your face' as well, maintaining distance. I feel there is some sense of false security, especially when we're talking about the library, where we just say, 'mask.'"
Schneider said having a recommendation of wearing masks makes sense, but mandating it is "wildly" different.
"My concern is where we've studied where masks are mandated, it's total chaos," Schneider said. "People dislike it. It's another one of these issues where it's neighbor-versus-neighbor.
"Never before in human history have we quarantined healthy people, and nowhere in human history have we mandated that healthy people wear masks. I need to understand the negative consequences of mask usage, the negative consequences from prolonged mask usage ... I see a lot of anxiety, fear in our society, and I think masks are contributing to that hysteria."
He added, though, masks are important for a class of people who need them to protect themselves.
During Monday night’s Waverly City Council meeting, the members were expected to enact a policy that requires everyone wear a face covering when in municipal buildings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The resolution would apply to anyone entering the City Hall/Civic Center building, public library, recycling center, public services building, the golf course pro shop, the golf maintenance building, the airport facility, the parks shop, the Waverly Police Department portion of the Bremer-Waverly Law Enforcement Center, the water department, the water pollution control facility, the fire station or the cemetery office.
In a text message to Waverly Newspapers, Mayor Adam Hoffman said the resolution came from concerns expressed by the library staff over patrons not wearing masks since its reopening. He noted that some other city employees expressed similar worries.
“City staff is not required (to wear masks) at the present time,” Hoffman said. “Many do so at their own will."
Hoffman clarified that employees would be required to wear masks if the resolution were to be enacted.
“The city has placed barrier partitions in most every location where public interactions occur," he added. "Social distancing has been the biggest measure taken. Even meetings of just a few people are taken to the Civic Center, where people can spread out.”
Among those meetings that took place are the newly formed Human Equity and Diversity Task Force, which has 16 members. According to a brief discussion during the July 27 study session meeting, 15 of the 16 were able to attend that meeting, with all chairs spaced out 6 feet apart, as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
The resolution mentions the recommendations of the CDC to have everyone wear masks while in public where physical distancing is unattainable, and also, the rate of transmission the virus is increasing rapidly.
According to the state’s coronavirus website, as of 12:30 p.m. Monday, there are 45,821 positive tests of the novel coronavirus in Iowa, an increase of 294 since Sunday. There were 881 deaths across the state, and 33,154 recoveries.
In Bremer County, though, there are 187 positive tests, 5.6% of those tested, while seven have died from the virus and 92 have recovered. The last positive cases were recorded on Saturday, when there were four.
Waverly Newspapers asked members of the Bremer County Board of Supervisors about the county’s policy on masks in county-owned buildings. Chairman Tim Neil replied, “As of now, we have posted on our door (of the courthouse) that masks are recommended and encouraged.”
Since the start of the public health emergency issued by Gov. Kim Reynolds on March 16, the Waverly City Council has been meeting remotely via Zoom. The Ivan “Ike” Ackerman City Council Chambers is the only room in City Hall or the Civic Center hardwired for video broadcasting, and council members cannot attain the 6-foot distance required by the CDC.
When asked whether the mask resolution would affect the status of those meetings, Hoffman said it depends on which version of the health authorities’ guidelines one would follow.
“It changes so frequently,” Hoffman said in his text message. “Most recently, it has stated to wear a mask where social distancing isn’t achievable.
“If six of the seven City Council members are comfortable meeting in person with masks, it would be nearly impossible to bring the seventh member into the meeting virtually with the existing hardware we have.”
Hoffman said the 12 computers used by him, the council, City Administrator James Bronner, City Attorney Bill Werger, City Clerk Carla Guyer and the month’s guest council member do not have web cameras. When he conducts the meeting, Hoffman brings in his own Macbook, while Werger hosts the Zoom call on the Windows laptop next to the lectern the public uses to address the council.
“I want to get the entire City Council, staff and guests back to the chambers, but back safely,” Hoffman concluded.