Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie signed an emergency proclamation requiring face masks or coverings in all public places within the city of Des Moines to help combat the spread of COVID-19 on Aug. 26.
Cownie has served as the Des Moines mayor for 17 years and said 2020 is a year like no other. He also serves as vice president of a group focused on climate change involving mayors from around the globe. As the pandemic worsened abroad, the other members of the group warned Cownie of how bad the situation may become in the United States.
“We issued our first warning and I declared an emergency in March,” Cownie said. “We had only one case in Polk County at that time and none in Des Moines.”
As of Sept. 9, Cownie said Polk County has seen over 14,000 cases and almost 250 deaths.
On Aug. 26, Cownie updated the ongoing emergency declaration out of the mayor’s office to include a mask mandate for the city.
“We did it based upon advice from the medical community around the state of Iowa and in the city of Des Moines, and from watching and listening to the school district, and watching what is happening in other places that ignored the consequences of it (COVID-19) and saw a surge in cases,” Cownie said. “That was very frightening.”
The Des Moines mayor said he is still concerned with the numbers in Polk County, as the percentage of positivity rates are steadily climbing.
“In the last two weeks, I think we’ve had maybe two or three days that have been under 10%, and a few days that were way over 15 and a couple of days that have been over 25,” Cownie said.
Unlike in other cities where mask-wearing is enforced through fines and ticketing, Des Moines is taking a different approach by handing out masks to those not wearing one.
“We’ve bought another 10,000 masks,” Cownie said. “Our public safety people, rather than handing out citations for civil infractions and saying, ‘You’re in violation,’ [are] saying, ‘Here’s a mask. Wear it.’”
The Des Moines mask mandate is affecting Drake University students as well.
According to the Drake Together Compact, “Everyone is required to wear a mask or face covering while in campus buildings and outdoor settings where safe social distancing is not possible.”
Ellie Reece, a sophomore actuarial science major, said she thinks both the city and campus mask mandates are good ideas. Her main concern is that not everyone follows the rules.
“I’ve found that most people are willing to comply with the rules and wear masks or face coverings, but there are also quite a few people who don’t despite the rules,” Reece said.
Cownie also referenced the need for community support of the mask mandate.
“I think we have improvements that could be made. There are some folks that don’t take this seriously. They don’t think anybody gets really sick and they don’t think that anybody is really getting sick,” Cownie said. “…I think part of it is education. Part of it’s, you know, all of us reminding each other that this is something real, and it’s not just in Des Moines, Iowa, it’s across the state of Iowa, it’s across the country, and across the world.”
At the end of the day, Cownie believes fighting COVID-19 in Des Moines comes down to taking personal responsibility for your safety and other’s well-being.
“[Keep] your hands clean and yourself clean, wash your hands frequently and social distance, and when you can’t social distance you have got to wear a mask,” Cownie said. “If we do that we can get through this together.”