Signs requiring masks sprout around Mt. Pleasant Tuesday

Like other businesses around town, Subway in Mt. Pleasant is now requiring masks of all customers inside the restaurant. The mandate comes after new statewide restrictions were announced Monday evening. (Ashley Duong/The Union)
Like other businesses around town, Subway in Mt. Pleasant is now requiring masks of all customers inside the restaurant. The mandate comes after new statewide restrictions were announced Monday evening. (Ashley Duong/The Union)

MT. PLEASANT — With the announcement of new restrictions to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus put in place on Monday evening, businesses around Henry County are putting up signs requiring customers to don masks before entering their shops.

Henry County Public Health Director Shelley Van Dorin said the newly announced coronavirus mitigation strategies and restrictions “are a start” for Iowa as the state and the region begin to see a second surge in cases.

“They want to see what the numbers will do and then there might be more mandates, following the results of this mandate,” Van Dorin said of the state’s plan that she learned about during a webinar on Tuesday.

Even with the restrictions, Van Dorin said there may be a lag time in seeing cases and numbers go down and asked local residents to “keep the vulnerable population” in mind when making holiday plans.

Still, Van Dorin is hopeful with restrictions including the cancellation of youth sports, that fewer large gatherings will be held and thus fewer opportunities for spread of the virus.

“I’m hopeful … with the mask mandate, we put a note on our door that says nobody without masks can come in, now that we have the support of the governor,” she said.

Mt. Pleasant Subway manager Michelle Essex put up signs on Tuesday requiring patrons of the sandwich shop to put on a mask before entering the restaurant. Before the new restrictions, the restaurant had signs that recommended the use of masks.

While Essex was originally worried the new restrictions may slow business, she said she “felt more comfortable” with the restrictions in place.

“Everyone’s been pretty pleasant about putting a mask on … I even asked a couple customers, ‘Could you put your mask over your nose?’ and no problem,” she said.

Essex added that in the past, she has had customers leave when other customers were not wearing masks.

“It’s not going to hurt anything,” she added.

For other restaurants in the area, like Jefferson Street Grill, which had already adapted to the first round of restrictions put in place in April, not much will change moving forward.

Tina Mathews, owner of the restaurant, said the biggest change for her would be requiring servers to wear masks, which had previously been optional. Mathews added other restrictions, including those on when restaurants could remain open would not affect her business.

“We’ve always closed at 9 p.m. anyway, so it didn’t change much for us,” Mathews said.

Since reopening, the restaurant has continued to adhere to the 6-foot distance requirement. Because her restaurant’s booths have dividers, Mathews said she has been able to continue to use the seating areas and doesn’t anticipate seeing too much of a drop in customers.

“I’m more fortunate than others because I had that in place,” she said.

Funeral director Mark Kimzey, who runs Kimzey Funeral Home, said following the first round of restrictions, funeral directors have acclimated to finding creative ways to include as many people in funerals in accordance to restrictions and health guidelines.

The new restrictions would limit indoor funerals to 15 people and outdoor gravesite funerals to 30 people, including the funeral director and any clergy members. Masks will be required at all times. However, because a funeral in a church is considered a religious service – exempt from gathering size restrictions – restrictions could be loosened.

The new restrictions are less restrictive than those set forth earlier in the year when only 10 people could be included at an indoor visitation.

“I’m better equipped as far as how to handle some things,” Kimzey said.

This includes streaming services on various online platforms and extending visitation hours so more people can visit and pay respects with less crowding.

“One of the biggest hurdles we had to face the first time was battling that limiting number yet dealing with the emotional wellness of people who are grieving, who need to grieve, who need the fellowship of other people to help them,” Kimzey said.

But with numbers rising and more deaths due to COVID-19, Kimzey said funeral directors have come to terms with the adjustments that need to be made.

“This is a very serious situation. We are willing to make adjustments, as painful as it might be, but we’re willing to make them because we’ve seen in our communities and nationwide how the ignorance on the subject just accelerates the reality,” Kimzey said.

Jeff Murphy, funeral director of Murphy Funeral Homes, echoed Kimzey’s statement about the seriousness of the pandemic and its effect on grieving families.

“It’s hard for families because they’re not able to see their loved ones at hospitals or nursing homes to say goodbye, and then we’re limiting numbers at services,” he said.

Murphy said he feels “pretty prepared” for the restrictions. Like Kimzey, Murphy is dedicated to following restrictions set out by the governor.

“Our numbers are increasing and more people are sick. We need to get through this,” he said.