Reynolds signs law to forbid Iowa schools, counties and cities from requiring face masks

By: - May 19, 2021 9:26 pm

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

After midnight and surrounded by a cheering, unmasked crowd, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill that forbids Iowa schools, counties and cities from requiring face coverings.

The law takes effect immediately. Iowa schools may not mandate masks for students, employees or members of the public. Any cities or counties that still mandate mask use in businesses must lift those restrictions, although individual business owners may still require masks at their discretion.

Republican advocates for the bill said constituents were eager to take off their masks and “get back to normal again.”

“We cannot continue to live in an entire bubble and quit living because of this awful pandemic that we’re enduring,” said Sen. Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville.

Under the bill, Iowa’s governor would still be able to impose a statewide mask mandate under an emergency order. However, cities and counties may not require businesses to comply with “more stringent” mask requirements than the governor ordered. Schools would only be allowed to require masks if it was for an extracurricular or instructional reason, or if they were required to do so by law.

Reynolds lifted all mask requirements in early February, when just 6.5% of people in the state had received their first vaccination. Reynolds emphasized last week that it was time for Iowans to “lean further into normal,” but that people could choose individually to wear masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that fully vaccinated people may do indoor and outdoor activities without a mask, though face coverings are still recommended for travel. Unvaccinated people are still advised to wear masks for indoor activities and crowded outdoor spaces.

Democrats argued that putting restrictions on who can require masks would complicate responses to future emergencies, would take away local power and would endanger children in the time before COVID-19 vaccinations are available to them.

Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, shared the story of a young student in Denver, Iowa, who uses a ventilator and required extra precautions to attend school. When his school made masks optional, she said, the student had to withdraw from school.

“Is this really what you want for medically vulnerable children all over Iowa?” Trone Garriott asked. “Or are you just not thinking about them?”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.