The Dallas County Board of Health unanimously approved a statement of COVID-19 mitigation guidance at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 24, but the statement was withheld from public release until Dec. 2.
On Nov. 25, the day after the board of health meeting, Abigail Chihak, community health administrator in the Dallas County Public Health Department, said she was “still waiting for the chair to send us back the official signed copy” before making the statement public.
By Monday, Nov. 30, Chihak was still waiting.
“We have not received the signed copy yet,” Chihak said. “I will make sure to get it out as soon as I do.” A link to the statement was posted to the county health department’s Facebook page Wednesday.
Chihak was waiting for Kim Chapman of Adel, who chairs the Dallas County Board of Health, to sign the document. Chapman also chairs the Dallas County Board of Supervisors.
The board of health approved the non-binding “statement” instead of the countywide mask mandate urged by board member Lina Tucker Reinders of Clive, who said the board should go beyond the governor’s partial order and direct residents to wear a mask in public — period — with no six-feet-for-15-minutes qualifiers.
Health board member Monty Button of Earlham spoke forcefully against a mandate and in favor of freedom and liberty. He said he was not sure whether face masks are effective in mitigating the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
“The mask thing has been very controversial from the very beginning of this, primarily on their effectiveness,” Button said. “And then there’s so many variations on these masks, what works, what doesn’t work, vented versus non-vented, cloth versus pleated paper, varying micron ratings, homemade versus China made.”
Button showed his fellow board members a picture of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attending a Washington Nationals ballgame in July.
“He’s the one that tells us one day they’re good and one day they’re bad,” Button said.
The health board finally settled for issuing the statement that “strongly recommends” the wearing of face masks.
“I’m disappointed that the county board of health didn’t go for a mask mandate,” Tucker Reinders said. “I think it’s what’s needed. Public health evidence shows that’s what’s needed to help flatten the curve. We need one statewide, to be honest.”
Tucker Reinders said the “strongly recommends” statement is better than nothing.
“Even a recommendation gives backing to local businesses and people in our community that are trying to do the right thing,” she said. “And it helps clarify. The governor’s proclamations are confusing. When do you wear a mask, and when do you not wear a mask? If I’m just ducking into the store quickly, do I have to wear one or not? I just wish there was more clarity with everything.”
Tucker Reinders first called for a Dallas County mask order at the July 28 meeting of the Dallas County Board of Health, urging the board to officially recognize mask usage as an effective mitigation strategy and to encourage participation. Chapman and Button voted against the July motion, which failed for lack of a majority.
Button expressed his opposition plainly at the November meeting, but Chapman recused himself from the discussion and vote.
“As I serve as a Dallas County Supervisor, I will retain that right to discuss and take action at that level rather than at the level of the board of health,” Chapman said.
From March 24 until June 16, the Dallas County Supervisors offered a virtual meeting option for citizens wishing to attend their meetings otherwise than in person. A Dallas County resident urged the supervisors at their Nov. 3 meeting “to resume using Zoom for board meetings,” but Chapman said he expects “a sunny winter,” and the item has not appeared on the agendas of subsequent meetings.
A survey of surrounding counties shows remote attendance is available for supervisors meetings in Adair, Guthrie, Greene, Boone, Story, Polk and Warren counties.
According to the minutes of the Nov. 17 supervisors meeting, Supervisor Brad Golightly “stated that electronic meetings are useful occasionally but feels when they are held electronically, something is lacking. He would like them used only in extenuating circumstances.” Dallas County had a 20% positivity rate Nov. 17, averaged over the preceding 14 days.
Also at the Nov. 17 meeting, Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard asked the supervisors whether they “had any guidance regarding the increased COVID-19 numbers.” Chapman indicated that “since it is not on the agenda, the board cannot deliberate” on the question. Nothing relating to COVID-19 mitigation in Dallas County has come before the supervisors since May 26.
“We see people questioning science overall,” Tucker Reinders said in an Aug. 7 interview in her role as executive director of Iowa Public Health Association. “We see people questioning CDC and Dr. Fauci, and there’s different guidelines and sometimes contradictory guidelines. And that all is presenting or resulting in an erosion of trust of public health. And so we want to build that back up, and we want to make sure our local public health professionals and state public health professionals are the trusted source of information, of credible information, of epidemiological information.”
Meetings of the Dallas County Board of Health are open to the public and occur on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. The next meeting will be Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. at 902 Court St. in Adel.