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Face Covering Mandate

Update 2/6/21: Despite a lifting of Iowa's face covering requirement by Governor Kim Reynolds, Des Moines' mask mandate will remain in place as a safeguard against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Learn More

CDC Mask illustration

On Aug. 26, Mayor Frank Cownie signed an emergency proclamation making face coverings mandatory in public places whenever proper social distance cannot be maintained. The mask mandate took effect as the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) surpassed 58,000 positive cases statewide with nearly 12,000 in Polk County. 

"We are switching from an urgent recommendation to a mandate. This is to send a strong and clear message that we need to be accountable and disciplined in battling this pandemic. Now more than ever we have to protect the health and well-being of the citizens of Des Moines and the state of Iowa."

Mayor Frank Cownie

The face covering mandate is intended to encourage residents and visitors to follow the official guidelines from the CDC:

  • Everyone should wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • Masks should not be placed on young children (under age 2), anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
Face covering mandate door sign

When does the face covering mandate start and end?

The mandate went into effect on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. The emergency proclamation allows the Mayor to end the face covering mandate at his discretion as circumstance warrant. The Mayor and the City of Des Moines are closely monitoring information provided by the Polk County Emergency Management Agency, the Polk County Department of Health and the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Who has to wear a face covering?

Every person in the City of Des Moines that is two years of age or older is required to wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth when in a public place, unless they qualify for an exemption below.

Where are face coverings required?

  • Face coverings are required outdoors when you cannot maintain at least six feet of social distancing from others.
  • Face coverings are required inside any indoor public setting, for example, but not limited to:
    • Grocery stores
    • Pharmacies
    • Hardware stores
    • Retail stores
    • Restaurant, bars and taverns
    • Any other public setting when spending time with people you do not live with
  • Face coverings are required when using public transportation or a private car service, including taxis, ride sharing or carpooling.

When and where are face coverings NOT required?

  • Face coverings are not required while traveling in a personal vehicle alone or with household members.
  • Face coverings are not required while a person is alone or in the presence of only household members.
  • Face coverings are not required while outside, if you're keeping six feet away from others.
  • Face coverings are not required while exercising at moderate or high intensity, such as jogging or biking.
  • Face coverings are not required while seated at a food establishment in the process of eating or drinking.
  • Face coverings are not required while obtaining a service that would require temporary removal of the person's face covering.
  • Face coverings are not required when federal or state law prohibits wearing a face covering or requires the removal of a face covering.

Who is exempt from wearing a face covering?

Those who are exempt from wearing a face covering under the mandate include:

  • Persons under two years of age.
  • Anyone who has difficulty breathing or is on oxygen therapy or a ventilator.
  • Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance.
  • Anyone who has been told in writing by their medical, legal, or behavioral health professional not to wear face coverings.
  • Any person for whom a face covering would be violative of a sincerely held religious belief or doctrine.
  • Anyone actively engaged in a public safety role, including but not limited to law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel, although a face covering should be worn if possible.

What businesses are included in the mandate?

If customers, patients, clients or other members of the public are allowed into a business location either by appointment or during regular hours of operation, then that business is considered a "public accommodation" and the face covering mandate is applicable.

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How should a business respond if a patron shares they meet one of the exemptions?

If a patron claims they meet one of the listed exemptions, it should be accepted. Burden of proof is not required. If a patron refuses to wear a mask and does not give a reason, the patron should be asked to leave in the interest of protecting other patrons. If the patron is asked to leave and refuses to comply, businesses can call the Des Moines Police Department non-emergency number at (515) 283-4811 for enforcement.

When are face coverings required at restaurants and bars?

Restaurants and bars may not provide service to a customer or allow a customer to enter its premises unless the customer is wearing a face covering. Customer face coverings should only be removed while actively in the process of eating or drinking.

Does the face covering mandate apply to private events held at locations closed to the public?

No. The face covering mandate is only applicable to public spaces and accommodations. However, the City and public health officials strongly recommend guests attending social gatherings on a property not open to the public (such as at someone's home or yard) wear face coverings whenever they can't stay at least six feet away from others.

Who is enforcing the face covering mandate?

The Des Moines Police Department started enforcing the proclamation on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Violators will be informed of the mandate and will be provided a free face covering.

Questions about enforcement may be directed to the Des Moines Police Department at (515) 283-4811.

What if I don't wear a face covering?

Des Moines Police will not be focused on issuing citations to violators, instead they will stress the health and safety behind the mandate and encourage the public to wear face coverings. Those who violate the mandate will be stopped by DMPD to be reminded of the risk they are placing on others and will be provided a free mask to make it easier to comply and protect those around them.

Does the City of Des Moines have the authority to require a face covering?

In 1968, Iowa passed the Home Rule Amendment to the Iowa Constitution which constitutionalized local control in the State of Iowa. The Home Rule Amendment became Article III, Section 38A of the Iowa Constitution granting municipalities the power to determine their local affairs and governing not inconsistent with the laws of the general assembly. Chapter 364 of the Iowa Code reaffirms the constitutional grant of home rule authority to municipalities:

“to exercise any power and perform any function it deems appropriate to protect and preserve the rights, privileges and property of the city or its residents, and improve the peace, safety, health, welfare and convenience of its residents.”

A “city may exercise its general powers subject only to limitations expressly imposed by a state or city law,” and the exercise of a city power “is not inconsistent with a state law unless it is irreconcilable with the state law.” Iowa Code §§ 364.2(2) and (3).

Under Home Rule Authority, a city may set standards “more stringent than those imposed by state law, unless a state law provides otherwise.” Iowa Code § 364.3(a); City of Des Moines v. Gruen, 457 N.W.2d 340, 343 (Iowa 1990); Bryan v. City of Des Moines, 261 N.W.2d 685, 687 (Iowa 1978).

Iowa Code § 372.14(2) and City of Des Moines Municipal Code § 2-168 grant the Mayor powers in emergency circumstances when public danger exists to take extraordinary steps to protect the public health and safety.