Hiawatha City Commission meetings have been dominated in recent weeks by discussions of the city’s mask mandates and this week was no exception.
The group met this Monday, and heard from five local citizens regarding the city’s mask requirements, along with comments from commissioners and local healthcare representatives.
Former Hiawatha resident Jason Dvorak spoke of his experience with the CDC a year ago, after traveling to Europe. Dvorak stated that concerns over the state of Europe’s health concerns were exaggerated, but felt mistreated and exposed by the CDC upon his return. Dvorak said that he believes that local businesses should be able to decide for themselves how masks are handled, but did state his belief that whatever a business’s preferences are should be followed. Dvorak was joined in speaking to the commission by his daughter Jocelyn, who voiced her concern that high school students were not being heard in their concerns about mask requirements. Jocelyn noted the lack of masks in organized sports and in restaurants as proof that mandates were being enforced based on agenda.
Richard Schilling was on hand, as well, and shared his belief that rights are granted by God, while also sharing that he believes that Covid-19 is not going away anytime soon. Schilling asked the commission to keep an open mind in considering the opinions expressed by citizens. Stuart Aller returned to the commission, sharing that his family had seen their business discontinued by a local company who disagreed with his opinions at the previous meeting. Aller spoke of freedom of speech, and expressed his dismay that his stance on the issue has affected his family.
Jim Robidoux spoke in support of the mask mandate. Robidoux stated his belief that many of the arguments being made for disbanding the mask mandate fail to recognize individuals’ responsibility to the greater good of a community.
Mayor Bill Collins requested to hear from local healthcare representatives, introducing Hiawatha Community Hospital CEO John Broberg. At that point, a user identifying themselves as Chris Kroll, who spoke in favor of removing the mask mandate at the last meeting, made a comment on the Zoom Chat section made the remark, “Here comes the ‘sCiEnCe’.”
Broberg shared a graph showing the peak of Covid-19 activity in Brown County, and the decline after local mask mandates. The HCH leader shared concerns over the three new variants of the Coronavirus that have surfaced, including at least one variant that is present in Kansas. Broberg shared that by the end of the week over 700 initial doses of vaccines will have been administered in Brown County, and that it has been suggested that mask mandates not be lifted until 75 percent of residents have been vaccinated. Robin Downard with the Brown County Health Department mirrored Broberg’s concerns over new variants, and both asked to maintain the mask order and re-evaluate in two months.
Commissioner Becky Shamburg said she is comfortable with the information presented by the healthcare professionals, and is in favor of keeping the mandate in place. Commissioner Evans Woehlecke shared that he has seen up close the effects of Covid deaths, and wants to do all we can as a community to beat the virus. Commissioner Dave Middendorf stated that he has been approached by local businesses who have missed time due to contracting the virus or the need to quarantine who shared their appreciation for the mask mandate.
Commissioner Brian Shefferd stated that the low numbers of cases should lead to a repeal or a sunset of the mask mandate. Shefferd also wanted to reiterate that he does not believe that no one should wear masks, but that the decision should be left to individuals and businesses.
Mayor Bill Collins said that he has to rely on what experts in the healthcare field recommend, and thus believes keeping the mask mandate in place is necessary, at this time.
With no consensus to add an expiration date to the mask mandate, the commission moved on to discussing reopening City Hall to public traffic. City Administrator Mike Nichols shared some potential guidelines if the commission decided to open City Hall, including requiring masks, separate entrances, hourly disinfecting and limited access to some areas of the building. City Clerk Tish Sims said that her staff prefers keeping the building closed, but continuing to allow access to those who have appointments or knock on the door, which allows control of the flow of traffic through the close quarters. General consensus among the commission - except for Commissioner Shefferd who said he wanted to get City Hall open - was that as long as the crew was serving those who asked to enter, continuing the current closed status of City Hall should continue.