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Iowa's governor lifts statewide COVID mandates, encourages personal responsibility: No more mandatory masks, social distancing, or gathering restrictions

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A couple of major cities are not thrilled

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

As of Sunday, citizens of the Hawkeye State are free to make more decisions for themselves as responsible adults following Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds' decision to lift several notable statewide coronavirus restrictions.

On Friday, Reynolds issued a proclamation repealing the state's limited mask requirements, social distancing requirements, and limits on gatherings, the Des Moines Register reported.

Instead of the government mandating behavior of adults and continuing what has essentially become the quarantining of healthy people, Reynolds' proclamation promotes personal responsibility and common sense, as noted in Section One:

I continue to strongly encourage all vulnerable Iowans, including those with preexisting medical conditions and those over than 65, in all counties of the state to continue to limit their activities outside of their home, including their visits to businesses and other establishments and their participation in gatherings of any size and any purpose. And I encourage all Iowans to limit their in-person interactions with vulnerable Iowans and to exercise particular care and caution when engaging in any necessary interactions.

The proclamation, which extended Iowa's state of public health disaster emergency through March 7, went into effect Sunday morning and focuses on encouraging Iowans to take personal responsibility and make decisions that are in the best interest of their health during the pandemic.

The governor imposed a limited statewide mask mandate in November as cases surged nationwide, the Washington Post noted. But with a significant drop in cases and hospitalizations in the state, as well as increased vaccination availability for hundreds of thousands of Iowans, Reynolds elected to return personal choice on masks to adult Iowans.

Her newest proclamation also rolls back restrictions on social distancing and gatherings and replaces them with encouragement for organizers and hosts to "take reasonable measures" to protect the public health. However, there are no mandates and no enforcement mechanisms for the state to shut down gatherings.

Reynolds' action also lifted social distancing mandates that have restricted businesses like bars, restaurants, casino, and gyms, as well as sporting events.

The governor's spokesman, Pat Garrett, told the Register that the governor wants her fellow Iowans to have the freedom to take "reasonable" measures on their own, saying in an email to the paper that Reynolds "strongly encourages Iowans, businesses and organizations to take reasonable public health measures consistent with guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health."

Two major cities disagree

At least two Iowa cities have declared that they will not be following the governor's lead and that mask mandates will continue to be enforced.

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, a Democrat, announced that the city's mask mandate, which he imposed in August, would remain in place.

"The governor's decision is confusing and can't be rationalized with the number of positive cases we continue to see across the state and here in Polk County," Cownie said Saturday, according to the Register. "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."

Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague, also a Democrat, instituted a mask mandate in July. City Manager Geoff Fruin said following Reynolds' announcement that Iowa City is still under a mask order.

"Iowa City's mask order is not impacted by the Governor's latest order and is still in place through May 31, 2021," Fruin said on the city's website. "Residents should continue to wear masks in all public spaces within Iowa City in accordance with the City's order."

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, has gone on record repeatedly with his belief that cities do not have the legal power to enforce mask mandates, according to the Register.

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