BOISE, Idaho — The Central District Board of Health voted during a virtual meeting on Tuesday to implement a face mask requirement for public areas throughout Ada County.
The vote was 5 to 1 in favor of the mandate, with the lone dissenting vote coming from board member Megan Blanksma.
The requirement, which went into effect immediately, means everyone in the county, with some exceptions, must wear a mask in indoor and outdoor public places when social distancing of at least six feet cannot be maintained.
Ada County has been the top hot spot for new COVID-19 cases over the last several weeks. The city of Boise been under a mask mandate since Mayor Lauren McLean issued a public health order on June 2.
Tuesday's order by CDH expands the mask requirement to the rest of the county. Violators could face a misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both, though board members admitted that enforcement of the mandate will likely be a significant challenge.
Some people will be exempt from the mask requirement - specifically, children under age 2 and people with medical conditions, mental health condition, or disability that prevent them from wearing a face covering.
Other exemptions from the mandate include:
- People who are deaf or hard of hearing, or communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
- Persons, including on-duty law enforcement officers, for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
- Persons who are obtaining a service involving the nose, face, or head for which temporary removal of the face-covering is necessary to perform the service.
- Persons who are eating or drinking at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, so long as they engage in physical distancing.
The health board heard from and asked questions of Dr. Steven Nemerson, the chief clinical officer for Saint Alphonsus Health System, who made a passionate plea for all Idahoans to wear face coverings as a way to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
"The COVID train has left the station, it is moving, [and] we are headed to become New York, California, Arizona," he said, referencing the major outbreaks in those states. "But the gift that we've been given is time to turn that train around and covering everybody's face for those who understand the message, it will make a big difference."
Nemerson told the board that the continued increase in COVID-19 cases, particularly in the Treasure Valley, is beginning to overburden the healthcare system, and is causing longer wait times or postponements for patients seeking "non-COVID care."
"Without further intervention, the problem is going to continue to grow," he said.
Nemerson argued that a significant number of illnesses and deaths can be avoided by widespread mask use throughout the community, in addition to continued social distancing and handwashing behaviors.
"The more face coverings there are out in the world, the more effective it is at containing the spread [of coronavirus]," he said.
While the board met virtually Tuesday afternoon, several dozen protesters opposed to the mask mandate gathered outside the Central District Health office in Boise. Some of the demonstrators carried flags and signs, including one that read, "We The People Will Not Submit to Tyranny."
One of the organizers of the protest called the mask requirement a power-grab by unelected leaders.
"Everybody can speak for themselves but I think the consistent theme is the fact that the people here see government overreach, and in this case unelected officials making autocratic decisions where they're punishing healthy people instead of focusing on how to care for sick people," Doug Nickle said.
Ada County is currently under Stage 3 restrictions, which limits gatherings to 50 people or less and prohibits bars and nightclubs from opening. The rest of Idaho remains in Stage 4 of the state's reopening plan.
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