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The Brown County Commission voted Monday to strongly suggest the use of masks in public, but officials decided not to mandate them this time.

The decision, which had been tabled a week prior, came after hearing from individual commissioners, as well as health-care professionals. County Health Director Chastity Schumann addressed the commission, which held the meeting via internet and a video feed on the courthouse lawn, and updated the group on cases in local counties, ending with a recommendation to strongly suggest the use of masks in public places.

Schumann noted that Nemaha, Jackson and Doniphan counties all went with recommendations on masks rather than mandates. Completed tests in Brown County now number 665, with 15 positive cases, no hospitalizations and 14 recovered. Schumann also stated that the newest case was the first since June 17, and that the majority of positive COVID-19 positive tests have been work-related — some of which were at places where people were required to wear masks — and only one case was believed to have been related to a mass gathering of more than 50 people.

Hiawatha Community Hospital CEO John Broberg spoke to the commission as well advocating for the use of masks. Broberg said the Hiawatha Hospital has taken more than 900 calls and performed more than 500 tests. A resident of Johnson County, Broberg said that this weekend every business he went to now requires masks to enter and those businesses were still busy.

Commissioner Dwight Kruse noted that Brown County has been below the average of percentage of positive tests. Commissioner Richard Lehmkuhl warned that any decision made Monday could be reversed at any time.

Commissioner Keith Olsen said he has gone back and forth on the issue. He said he is thankful for citizens sharing their concerns and urged a common-sense approach to mass gatherings. Olsen also spoke about the previous meeting, stating his displeasure at not having law enforcement present and also with the interaction between the commission and County Attorney Kevin Hill.

Hill responded by stating that he did not appreciate Olsen’s comments, and that he has served the County well for years and will continue to do so. Hill also said that no decision could have been made last Tuesday as the governor’s decree was not in place until Thursday and that the commission was not in a legal position to take action at that juncture.

Olsen then made a motion, given fewer COVID-19 cases in Brown County, the difficulty of the enforcing a face mask mandate, and after consulting with public health officials, that the county should strongly encourage but not mandate the use of masks in public. Lehmkuhl seconded the motion and the vote was unanimous, passing Resolution 2020-14.

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