Updated Aug 30, 2021 - COVID

Who's enforcing Iowa's vaccine passport ban?

Illustration of a passport with a syringe on the cover.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

For more than a week, we've to figure out who's enforcing Iowa's bans against COVID-19 vaccine passports and mask mandates. But so far, multiple key government officials don't have answers.

What they're saying: Iowa's public health spokesperson Matt Highland on Aug. 19 referred Axios' questions to the governor's office.

  • Lawyers for Gov. Kim Reynolds are checking into it, the governor's spokesperson Pat Garrett told us last week after multiple follow-ups. (There's no promise for a quick answer. They're inundated, he said.)

Why it matters: A surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant has prompted some businesses and local governments to adopt pandemic protections that are either in direct violation of, or run counter to, the spirit of the laws.

Context: Iowa is among 20 states that have banned vaccine passports, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. The consequence in Iowa and in many states is the possible revocation of grants or contracts.

  • Reynolds signed the laws earlier this year, before the highly transmissible Delta variant had been widely detected in Iowa.
  • They were necessary to protect residents' medical privacy and to discourage businesses from discriminating against employees based on vaccination status, supporters said.

Zoom in: Local music venues are in a scramble as vaccine passports become an industry standard and organizers try to balance the law with artist demands.

  • Meanwhile, Iowa City's mayor declared a civil emergency over Delta concerns more than a week ago, resulting in a public mask mandate that the governor's office said is illegal. It's being reviewed by Iowa's attorney general.
  • The Iowa Supreme Court's chief justice signed a mask mandate Friday that applies to all people in the state's court buildings, contradicting legislative or executive branch policies against such orders.

Thought bubble: We all know the wheels of government can move slowly at times. Consequences could be coming for those who don't strike the right balance between the laws and pressure to implement stringent pandemic protections.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice's mask mandate contradicts legislative and executive branch policies.


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