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'I would not vote to mandate masks,' says Coeur d'Alene mayor amid COVID-19 uptick

Panhandle Health District reported 97 new coronavirus cases on July 9 alone. That's the highest single-day spike in cases since the pandemic began.

Editor's note: Above video is a report from July 1 on testing wait times in North Idaho

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho —  Health officials in North Idaho are expressing concerns about a recent spike in coronavirus cases throughout the area. But local leaders are not yet considering mandatory measures to slow the spread of disease.

Panhandle Health District (PHD) reported 97 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, July 9, alone. That's the highest single-day spike in cases since the pandemic began. 

On Friday, the health district reported another 81 new cases. More than 80% of new cases on both Thursday and Friday were reported in Kootenai County, which is home to Post Falls, Coeur d'Alene and several other cities.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the PHD Board of Health said the significant uptick in cases "will significantly increase COVID-19 illness in our community and resulting increase demands on healthcare, as well as having a negative impact on business activity, personal interactions and related activities."

The potential for increased infections to overwhelm the region's healthcare capacity also exists, board members said. 

Board members strongly recommended that community members take steps to stop the spread of disease "in light of the serious danger and implications" related to the increase in COVID-19 cases. 

RELATED: 'It's been an explosion of cases': Bar-hopping in North Idaho could be contributing to COVID-19 spike

Those steps include community-wide masking, physical distancing, and repeated property hand hygiene, health officials said. Board members are also recommending that all indoor gathering sites provide sufficient and effective ventilation.

Local businesses are also encouraged to require masking for their employees in all cases where self-isolation is not possible, and to require or encourage patrons to wear a mask when physical distancing is not possible. 

"PHD also continues to endorse increasing testing availability, as well as ongoing case identification and epidemiologic tracking," board members said.

KREM's Tim Pham reports that Kootenai Health is still testing 300 to 400 people per day at its drive-up site.

The wait time for testing is about two hours on Friday, which is an improvement from last week's wait times of four-plus hours.

RELATED: Kootenai Health looks to expand COVID-19 testing amid wait times up to 4 hours long

While the board is not currently endorsing mandatory measures or a move backward in the state's reopening process, it may "consider such actions if necessary" to protect the community's health, according to the board's statement. 

This decision would be made in conjunction with county commissioners and city leaders, said Katherine Hoyer with PHD. Several factors would be considered before a decision could be made to roll back a stage, including testing, contact tracing, hospitalizations, ICU beds and the availability of personal protective equipment. 

Coeur d'Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer said in a statement to KREM on Friday that he "would not vote to mandate masks."

His full statement is as follows: 

"In reading Panhandle Heath's press release they did not recommend a mask mandate. I strongly encourage the wearing of a mask when social distancing is not possible. I believe it’s the right thing to do to keep yourself and others safe. Personally I wear a mask when social distancing is not possible. Controlling this virus is a partnership between government and the citizens. The government helps provide testing, health care, and all the health care guidelines. The citizens need to take those guidelines and act accordingly. It’s being personally responsible. It’s caring for your fellow citizens. I will continue to strongly encourage personal responsibility. That being said, I would not vote to mandate masks."

Several weeks ago, PHD expected North Idaho to eclipse 200 COVID-19 cases by the Fourth of July. The area has seen more than triple that amount nearly one week after the holiday. 

Health officials are reporting 689 total coronavirus cases, with 595 of those in Kootenai County, and five hospitalizations at last check. 

"We are currently experiencing widespread community transmission in Kootenai, Bonner, and Benewah counties. Shoshone and Boundary county cases are still being researched to determine if community transmission needs to be announced," Hoyer said in a statement to KREM on Friday. 

According to data compiled by the New York Times, the one-week average of new cases in Kootenai County is sitting at 39 as of Thursday, July 9. That number was 9 just two weeks ago.

There are 305 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Kootenai County, along with 226 per 100,000 in Benewah County, 98 per 100,000 in Bonner County, 16 per 100,000 in Boundary County, and 39 per 100,000 in Shoshone County, according to data from Panhandle Health. 

The mayor of Moscow, Idaho, recently required the use of face masks in public amid an uptick in coronavirus cases. 

RELATED: Face masks required in Moscow as COVID-19 cases increase

Under Lambert's order, every person in Moscow must wear a face covering that covers their nose and mouth in any indoor or outdoor public setting where six feet of physical distancing is not possible. 

Any person who "knowingly violates" provisions of the order may be charged with a misdemeanor. The maximum penalties are up to six months in the county jail and a $1,000 fine.

Governor Brad Little also announced on Thursday that Idaho will remain in the final stage of the Idaho Rebounds plan for another two weeks, as the state did not meet necessary metrics to move forward.