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Proposed health order fails as Central District Health Board splits vote

The board voted 3-3 on the order, with board members from Boise, Elmore and Valley counties voting against it.

BOISE, Idaho — The Central District Health Board voted on Tuesday to reject a proposed district-wide public health order.

The board voted 3-3, with board members from Ada County voting in favor of the plan and board members from Boise, Elmore and Valley counties voting against it. Board Chair Betty Ann Nettleton, a retired nurse from Elmore County, could have broken the tie but she abstained, and the vote failed.

Existing orders in Ada and Valley counties, as well as the existing district-wide public health advisory, will remain in effect.

The proposed public health order, which was published to the public on Dec. 4, would enact new restrictions - primarily focused on mask usage and limiting gathering sizes - on individuals and businesses.

Dozens of protesters once again gathered outside the CDH office during the 30 minute-long meeting, with some banging drums and shouting "freedom," though no incidents were reported.

CDH Director Russ Duke began the meeting by urging the board to pass the order. He added that the majority of comments on the draft received by the board were in favor of it.

"Many people who expressed opposition to the order do not want businesses and schools to be shut down," Duke said. "This order does not shut anything down. In fact, one of the desired outcomes for implementing the order is to keep businesses and schools from having to shut down."

Duke added that 300 people within the district have already died from coronavirus-related illnesses, with 100 of them dying in the last 40 days.

"I believe we should do everything we can to maintain our health systems, and to try to reduce the number of people who get sick, who get hospitalized, and who die from COVID," he said. "It's not getting better. It's getting worse."

After the vote failed to gain a majority in favor of the order, board members from Boise, Elmore and Valley counties - who voted against the order - said they had received overwhelmingly negative feedback from people in their counties.

"You have to listen to the public, and the public is saying 'we don't want this,'" Valley County Commissioner Elting Hasbrouck said. "In Valley County, I think we've been doing a really good job. Our numbers are still pretty low and I don't feel like it's fair to go back to them and say, okay, we're going to put even more restrictions on and there is a possibility of a citation. 

"If we make everybody mad by passing a mandate, an order, when it comes to vaccinating people I think people are gonna dig in their heels and that's the last thing we need," he added.

Rep. Megan Blanksma, who represents Elmore County on the board, said she has seen a "substantial uptick in people wearing masks" and worries that a mandate would be counterproductive.

"I think it's important that we start working on a message about cooperation, rather than compliance," Blanksma said. "And I think that if we start focusing on getting more cooperation, more public interest in different methods to help control the spread [of COVID-19], I think we're actually going to have a higher level of success and a lot less negative interaction when it comes to the public. 

"There was very, very little support for this order [in Elmore County]," Blanksma added. "And a whole lot of pushback on the idea that their representatives to the board might not carry the day, and other counties might be implementing orders for Elmore county and I think there was some frustration on that level."

She concluded by saying that, because the order failed, it's now important for the board "to really work hard" at finding cooperation when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus.

Ada County board member Diana Lachiondo, who had to leave last week's meeting due to protesters outside of her home, said that she recognized the frustration of those opposed to more restrictions.

"We understand how hard this is," she said. "But we are begging you to help us get through the next few months so that we don't end up in crisis standards of care. Please help us do what we need to do, so we can make it through into 2021 in better shape."

Last week, CDH met to vote on the proposed order but the meeting was cut after 15 minutes when hundreds of protesters gathered at the district's headquarters and some others went to the homes of at least two board members. The Boise Police Department and Boise Mayor Lauren McLean requested the meeting to end due to public safety concerns.

The revised public health order would have allowed youth and adult sporting events to go on, there would be more exemptions to the face mask mandate, visitations to long-term care facilities may continue under certain requirements, and bar top seating - at bars and restaurants - would be allowed so long as a barrier is in place between the customers and the bartenders. 

Both Boise Police and Idaho State Police said they would beef up their presence at CDH ahead of the meeting. 

“We are going to do everything we can to make sure that they have the ability to carry out their meeting,” Deputy Chief Ron Winegar said. “It can be relatively free from disruption or at least those disruptions will be managed.”

Credit: Logan Schenk / KTVB
Protesters gather outside Central District Health as board members vote on a proposed public health order on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.

A spokesperson for CDH said the health district would any sound system or open flames on the property after some people have brought tiki torches to protests over the past few months. 

“I think we are certainly doing our best to be prepared for and helping them accomplish their goal of making that vote happen,” Winegar said.