Students, community react to mandate

Students%2C+community+react+to+mandate

Toni Fortmann

SARA QUALLEY, Staff Writer

Face covering requirements are extending beyond UNI’s campus and will now be required everywhere in Cedar Falls where social distancing isn’t possible.

Thanks to a resolution passed by the Cedar Falls City Council on Sept. 8, Cedar Falls residents five years of age and older must wear a face covering inside any indoor public settings, as well as outdoor public spaces where maintaining six feet of social distancing is not possible. Face coverings must also be worn while riding public transportation. Exemptions to the mandate include those with breathing difficulties or medical exemptions, as well as those actively engaged in public safety roles, such as firefighters, law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.

With COVID-19 cases increasing in Cedar Falls at the beginning of September, Cedar Falls mayor Rob Green saw a need for a mask mandate. He acknowledged that while wearing masks can be uncomfortable and claustrophobic, wearing them is beneficial. 

“I’m doing it because I know it helps other people,” Green said in a phone interview with the Northern Iowan. “I’m assuming that I already have COVID, especially for all the people I talk to. So, my goal is to make sure that I’m not giving it to someone else.”

Green said he feels encouraged to wear a mask to protect not only others’ physical health, but their mental health as well if they’re anxious about contracting COVID-19.

The goal of the mandate is to decrease the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Cedar Falls. The resolution states, “. . . this resolution is not meant to be stigmatizing or punitive and is in the best interest of the health, welfare, and safety, and economic recovery of the City of Cedar Falls, Iowa and its residents.”

Green reiterated that the intent of requiring masks is not to punish Cedar Falls residents, and those who choose not to wear masks won’t receive fines, since the city council chose to issue a resolution and not an ordinance. However, the resolution does require businesses to only serve customers who are wearing masks.

Green said he recognized that UNI students may have felt that they were receiving mixed messages due to the university requiring masks while Cedar Falls didn’t. He hopes the message is now consistent and students feel assured that the university wasn’t overreacting by requiring masks. 

The mandate comes one month after UNI senior Kristin Rasmussen, who studies oboe performance and music history, started a petition on Change.org asking Green and the city council to enact a mask mandate. She sent the petition to Cedar Falls city council members on Aug. 25, urging them to take action to show they care about their constituents.

“Through enforcing a city-wide mask mandate this will protect those most vulnerable: immuno-compromised, the elderly, and young children,” Rasmussen wrote on the petition. “If Cedar Falls can mask up, then we can save lives.”

Rasmussen felt compelled to start the petition as a call for public compassion. Her friend’s dad passed away due to COVID-19, something her friend felt could have been avoided if Governor Reynolds enacted a statewide mask mandate.

Rasmussen is uncertain if her petition prompted the council to act, but she’s glad to see wearing face coverings is now required. However, she would like the university to do more to enforce the wearing of face coverings. She lives on campus and has observed UNI students wearing masks pulled under their noses, only properly adjusting them when entering buildings like Piazza.

Rasmussen said she wishes students would care about the pandemic, and she felt frustrated to see so many students lining up to go to bars when they were still open, not caring about what they could be bringing back to campus.

“My real hope is that people will eventually realize that even if they don’t work, it’s better to be safe than sorry,” she said. “That’s kind of my mindset behind this whole thing.”

Isaac Vos, a senior history major at UNI, is glad to see the mandate going into effect. After reading KWWL’s coverage of the mandate, he told the Northern Iowan in a message via Facebook that the Cedar Falls city council will have to determine what six feet of distance looks like. He’d also like to know if masks will be required when people are being active.

“I’ve had experiences before this mandate of students not wearing masks when playing basketball or other sports, and I wish that (the city council) had clarified some of the language regarding that,” Vos wrote. “Other than those couple of reasons, I am quite excited that we have a way to keep the Cedar Falls community healthy and make the chances of us staying on campus much higher.”

The resolution states that people are exempt from wearing a face covering “while exercising at a moderate or high intensity e.g. swimming, jogging, biking.”

The mask mandate will be in effect until Oct. 21, but may be extended beyond that time.

UNI students and Cedar Falls residents can stay updated about Cedar Falls’ response to COVID-19 at https://www.cedarfalls.com/prepare.