Moves by some Dubuque County elected officials to require masks in their offices failed to draw majority support Monday from the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors to cover common areas in county buildings with such a mandate.

Since May, face coverings have been recommended, but not required, in county buildings. Visitors and staff are expected to wear them if they are not vaccinated. But, County Human Resources Director Dawn Sherman said the recommendations are not being enforced.

“It is an honor system for both the public and the employees at this point,” she said.

Sherman brought up to supervisors bolstering mask rules in county buildings during the board’s Monday meeting, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise again and following Dubuque County Auditor Kevin Dragotto’s decision to require masks again in his own offices for both visitors and staff.

“Other counties have reinstituted mask requirements (in county buildings) weeks ago,” Dragotto told supervisors. “Given that we’ve had breakthrough infections in this building, I think we’re a bit behind the eight ball. It is the intention of our office to have a mask mandate in place to some degree by the middle of this week.”

The auditor is not alone. Dubuque County Recorder John Murphy has had a mask mandate in place for weeks in the recorder’s office.

“We’ve been requiring masks since the 23rd of August,” he told supervisors. “For the most part, it’s been flawless. We had one complaint. It’s been well-received by the public. I have every intent to follow CDC guidelines for the foreseeable future.”

Dubuque County Sheriff Joe Kennedy, however, sternly insisted he would put no such requirement in place for his staff.

“Unless it’s mandated by the State of Iowa, I don’t have any intention of requiring masks,” he said. “Everyone worked from home last year except me and my guys. We wore masks every day for months on end. We’re not going back to it.”

Supervisor Ann McDonough said she would not presume to tell Kennedy what to do with his department. But, she proposed requiring masks in the common areas — entryways, hallways, restrooms — of county buildings as a precaution.

Supervisor Harley Pothoff said department heads should have control over what happens in their offices, but that he would be no part of mandating masks be worn in other areas of county buildings.

“I’m not telling you what to do,” he told Dragotto. “If you want you and your people to wear masks, that’s fine.”

Dragotto, though, said many members of the public have shown no “common sense personal responsibility” to follow public health strategies, necessitating stronger rules.

“When they’re trusted to do the right thing, they are not, most of the time,” he said. “We have a public who doesn’t know what to do, who on any give day hears different direction from all manner of sources. It is clear that there is confusion out there. It’s the job of the Board of Supervisors to look out for the health of the entire county.”

Pothoff and Supervisor Jay Wickham, however, did not support further discussion of a new rule.

Masks and voting

There is expected to be some confusion with the auditor’s office mask rules, however. A combination of new state laws both requires him to have early voting in his office during the ongoing early voting in the primary for City of Dubuque municipal election and denies him the authority to require masks be worn while people vote there.

“Mask wearing cannot be a condition of voting,” said Dubuque County Project Coordinator Ed Raber. “Regardless of what kind of policy you created, individuals coming to the courthouse to vote cannot be required to wear a mask.”

Dragotto acknowledged that and said he would abide by it, but that it is worrisome.

“When the voter arrives to vote, they can remove their mask,” he said. “We’re running this primary out of this location. The annex will not be open. But we have an experienced and fantastic staff we need to keep safe.”

So, Dragotto asks voters to please wear masks when they enter to vote, even though he cannot require them to do so.

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