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Why 15 minutes? Health officials explain part of Iowa’s mask mandate

Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 8:35 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Iowa’s mask mandate has been in effect about a week now. It applies to people older than two who are at public places and indoors, but there’s one component that has made it difficult to enforce and even tougher to interpret.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds explained the quarter-hour specification is for people who are ”unable to social distance for 15 minutes or longer.”

But many residents expressed confusion and outright discontent, opting instead to interpret it as a loophole that allows them to go without a face covering unless they hit that threshold.

And the issue seems to be, that the mandate is unclear.

“It helps give us that identifiable marker with those individuals to say ‘what was that activity that you were doing and how long did it last?’” explained Mark Wyant, Pottawattamie County’s Director of Planning & Development.

Wyant said the time frame is tool for health experts to determine risk levels during contact tracing.

But the 15-minute time frame was initially derived from the Centers for Disease Control. The organization defines ‘close contact’ during this pandemic, as anyone within 6-feet of an infected person for at least that amount of time.

Iowa’s mandate however, only applies to people who cannot socially distance and Wyant urges people not to get hung up on that one part.

He stated the county’s health position takes it a step further, pushing for face coverings as soon as you walk in the door of any building, or if you are closer than 6 feet of someone else, regardless of how long a person could be exposed.

“There’s so many unknowns that go along with it. How many people were there before you without masks on? How many droplets were able to build up from them?” he listed. Wyant said it’s never a bad thing to be overly safe or cautious.

And when it came to caution, it was discovered that many entities are enforcing the mandate in their own way; specifically big box stores.

Our crews stopped by the Council Bluffs Walmart on North 16th. We noted no one was allowed inside without a mask and a person without one on, was offered one before they passed through the vestibule.

But it was a different story at Hy-Vee on Broadway. Everyone inside the grocery store wore masks, in compliance with the mandate, but a manager told 6-News they they didn’t have to. Instead, a manager said “No, it’s not mandatory. You can walk into a store perfectly fine without a mask on. Only the employees have to wear them.”

The corporate office later clarified the manager could have worded things better. Signs encouraging mask wearing are posted both in an outside Hy-Vee stores, but a spokesperson for the store did say they won’t turn customers away who refuse.

Hy-Vee acknowledged many people do have pre-existing health conditions and out of respect for customers, they do not ask for personal details.

So, what happens if someone blatantly disregards Iowa’s mask mandate? Are there consequences?

The short answer is no. Gov. Reynold’s spokesperson stated “local law enforcement can enforce.” but he added the state is not telling stores what to do, nor telling stores how to enforce face coverings. He said the responsibility is on the public.

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