Story County to begin mandating face coverings


A rise in COVID-19 cases causes Story County to require face coverings once again for visitors entering county buildings.

Katherine Kealey

The Story County Board of Health face coverings regulation went into effect as of Thursday after the Story County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution by affirmative vote.

The resolution that passed does have a penalty included with it but will not begin enforcement until granted approval from the state. Local officials advocated for a minimum fine of $65 and, depending on violations, could range up to $625. The penalty is on hold until the state grants the county the authority to penalize individuals. 

The resolution states every person in Story County shall wear a face mask:

  • In public as opposed to being in one’s place of residence, regardless of the ability to social distance.

  • Inside any indoor public setting, for example, but not limited to: grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, retail stores and schools.

  • Other public settings that are not one’s place of residence and when you are with persons who do not live in the household.

  • Outside, if keeping 6 feet away from others is not possible.

  • Using public transportation or private car service (including taxis, ride-booking services or carpooling.)

In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the resolution exempts anyone 2 years or younger from wearing masks because of suffocation risks.

The resolution passed as Iowa nears more than 110,000 positive COVID-19. Story County accounts for 3,882 of those cases and has continued to rise.

John Paschen, chair of the Story County Board of Health, said it proves the use of masks lowers the risk of transmission.  

Under the emergency proclamation, local governments lack the authority to enforce a mask mandate. The penalty is included in the resolution; if Reynolds does grant municipalities the authority, the penalties will already be in play, Paschen said.

Story County Supervisor Lauris Olson has always supported a mask mandate, regardless of the state’s response. 

“From my standpoint, I was never afraid of being sued because I feel that people’s lives are more important than being worried about a lawsuit,” Olson said. “Sometimes as an elected official, you have to take taxpayer money and put it where you firmly believe is in the best interest of the citizens, even if some citizens want to sue you for that.”

Olson said as cases continue to increase in the county, it is proof there was a need for the resolution. 

“Story County residents, from a significant amount we observed, were not making the right choice, and there is a consequence of making the decision not to wear the mask,” Olson said.

Olson acknowledged some people should not wear a mask for a medical reason, but for those who are able to, they should. 

“We are talking about a disease that is not well-known, but what is known is there are emerging long-term consequences of it,” Olson said. “And it impacts some people very seriously, including death.”

Not wearing a mask during this time, Olson said, is not in line with good public health standards while facing a public health emergency. 

Olson said there are Story County residents who have volunteered to wear face coverings in public before the resolution, and there will likely be people who won’t wear masks even after it is in effect, but she hopes this resolution will push more people to wear one to help prevent transmission.

“My goal in passing this was to target the group of people who are basically good, law-abiding citizens who want to do the ‘right thing’ but sometimes they need to be prompted by a legal requirement to do so,” Olson said. 

Story County Supervisor Lisa Heddens said the resolution is a product of the Story County Board of Health, and the board had concerns as to how COVID-19 and influenza might interact during this coming flu season.

“The Board of Health has been working on this for several months, so it was their proposal, their recommendation to their authority to move this up to the Board of Supervisors,” Heddens said. “It came from listening to constituents, listening to doctors and scientists and other people in the medical field as well as looking at the data.”

The board also looked at the City of Ames’ mask mandate, which passed in early September with no enforcement mechanism. Paschen said after Ames passed their mandate, the board observed more businesses using signage to remind shoppers to wear a mask when in their establishment. 

“Hopefully, what it does is it heightens the awareness even further, the importance of needing to wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands often,” Heddens said. “All of us want to get through this pandemic, I know we want it to end, but we need to collectively work together to be able to do that.”

If penalties are allowed, Paschen said he hopes to see empathy from local businesses in mandating their patrons to wear face coverings. To read the complete regulation and frequently asked questions, visit Story County’s website.

“A mask is the single best way to prevent passing COVID-19 as well as getting it yourself,” Paschen said. “It has been shown time after time that the more people that are wearing a mask, the less this virus passes, and this virus works like any other virus. It goes from human to human to human until it finds someone that it kills.”