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After removing a mask mandate, Panhandle Health Board approves one for North Idaho

Face masks will be required across the Panhandle Health District's jurisdiction for the next 60 days.

KOOTENAI COUNTY, Idaho — After voting to rescind a mask requirement for Kootenai County in October, the Panhandle Health District Board passed another mask mandate on Thursday afternoon.

The mandate passed with a 4-2 vote Thursday. One board members declined to vote. 

Face masks will be required across the Panhandle Health District's jurisdiction for the next 60 days. There are exceptions for kids, people with medical conditions and others.

Board member Jai Nelson, a former Kootenai County commissioner, proposed reinstating the mandate, arguing it was the board's duty. 

"It's our job to provide courageous and steadfast leadership in a public health crisis. It's our job to save lives. It's not only our job, it's our mandate," she said.

At times during that meeting, you could hear protesters outside the Panhandle Health building voicing their opposition.

The moves come as COVID-19 cases surge throughout Idaho. Panhandle Health District reported 201 new COVID-19 cases and two new deaths in Idaho's five northern counties on Wednesday, Nov. 18. 

Gov. Brad Little announced last week that he would roll the entire state back into a modified Phase 2 of its reopening plan as coronavirus cases threatened to overwhelm the healthcare system. He has not imposed a statewide mask mandate.

Masks were already required in Coeur d'Alene prior to the vote, with some exceptions, as of Tuesday, Oct. 27 after the city council voted in favor of a mandate. The Post Falls City Council declined to pass a mask mandate for all residents but voted to require face coverings on city property. 

The cities of Wallace and Kellogg also had mandates in place. To the South, in the North-Central Health District, Moscow requires face masks.

Kootenai, Boundary, Shoshone and Bonner counties remain in Panhandle Health District's "Substantial (Red)" risk category for coronavirus spread. Benewah County is in the "Moderate (Orange)" Category.