BOISE — The Central District Health board on Friday rescinded the mask orders in place for Ada and Valley counties.
The board opted instead for a public health advisory for Ada, Elmore, and Valley counties that outlines “strong recommendations” to wear a face covering, avoid indoor social gatherings and gatherings of more than 50 people, and get the COVID-19 vaccine.
The orders were lifted following a “steady decline in case counts in recent weeks and reduced impacts on hospitals” across the health region, the district stated.
The advisory will remain in effect until residents 65 and older have had the opportunity to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine “plus two weeks to ensure they receive the best protection,” and the district’s two-week average daily case rate remains less than 30 cases per 100,000 population, according to the document.
Much of the public has not yet been vaccinated and can still be exposed to the virus.
The public order for Ada County, first issued in June, had mandated mask-wearing in public and barred gatherings of more than 50 people, while Valley County’s order only mandated the use of masks.
A districtwide health order proposed for all four counties failed in December after protests delayed the board’s vote, according to previous Idaho Press reporting.
The city of Boise on Friday updated its own public health order, which will continue to require masks, with some exemptions, and six feet of social distance for all non-household members in public places. The order prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people, up from a previous cap of 10.
PUBLIC HEALTH ORDER
Trustee Elt Hasbrouck, who is also a Valley County commissioner, addressed the board over Senate Bill 1060, proposed by state Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, with recommendations from the Central District Health board. The new law would require any public health mandates to go through a review process with the affected county commission for final approval.
“I think that would resolve a lot of the conflict we had last year with folks saying that unelected officials were making these decisions, and this will put it squarely in elected officials’ hands,” Hasbrouck said.
The public health districts’ executive council, made up of seven trustees, determined that hiring a lobbyist might be in the best interests of the health districts’ ability to regulate public health given last year’s politicization of both state and local public safety measures, said the board member.
Each member received board approval before the council hired on lobbyist Mike Kane, a Boise lawyer who has represented various districts, at $5,000 a month.
The bill proposed by Vick has been supported by the Idaho Association of Counties, Hasbrouck said.
Dr. Ted Epperly, an Ada County representative on the health board, raised concern that the county commissions could overturn a public health order issued in good faith based on the notion that it may hurt the economy, or for political reasons.
If health departments issue an order for the good of the community and that “is seen as a mandate” and is subsequently overturned by the commission, the community could be exposed to dangerous conditions despite the order having been the right thing to do from the public health perspective, Epperly said.
“How do we resolve a conflict like that?” asked the doctor.
Hasbrouck answered, “If (the commission) decides they don’t support it, then the folks in that county can say the next time around we’re going to vote for new commissioners.”
Hasbrouck added that in Valley County, health officials felt it necessary to issue the mask mandate due to visitors from the Boise area “coming up to play every weekend” and that more COVID-19 cases were expected from that.
“There was a lot of talk that there were unelected officials making these decisions, and it really wasn’t true,” he said. “If folks didn’t like what they were doing, they should have gone to those commissioners and said you need to get those people off, we want someone else.”
State Rep. Megan Blanksma, who serves as vice chairwoman of the board and represents Elmore County, explained that the bill requires a review but doesn’t change the district’s ability to issue orders of isolation. “That comes from a different section of code,” she said.
The director of the Department of Health and Welfare retains the authority to issue those orders, noted Blanksma, and this is the code that was used to implement the current orders in place in Ada County.
Hasbrouck finished, “I think it’s a fair bill. I know we caught a little hell off the bat for using public funds to hire a lobbyist, but we felt like we needed to protect ourselves if somebody wants it out for us.”
Natalie Bodine, program manager for the district’s Office of Public Health Preparedness, said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has formally updated the number of doses provided in each vial of Pfizer vaccine from five to six, which will alter Idaho’s Vaccine Administration Transparency data.
This raises the number of doses per Pfizer tray from 975 to 1170 and allocations for next week have jumped to four trays total, from three trays allocated each week since the last week of January.
Bodine said the National Pharmacy Partnership Program intended to vaccinate long-term care facility residents is winding down and the unused doses from that program have been reallocated to the state.
Those doses came specifically from the district’s weekly allocation, but the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership Program that began last week provides an additional 5,000 doses from a separate federal allotment.
Idaho’s Vaccine Administration Transparency data comes from the state’s Immunization Reminder Information System, also known as IRIS, she said.
Vaccinating providers, of which there are currently 123 approved by Central District Health, have 72 hours to report after a dose has been administered. “Ada includes both first and second doses as distributed,” Bodine stated, although the transparency data does not distinguish between them.
The data also does not determine vaccine availability and “second doses may be showing and look like they’re sitting there, but they may have already been scheduled for a second dose clinic,” she added.
The district’s distribution rate is sitting at 55% while it actually has 100 doses sitting in inventory set aside for the second dose clinic that began this week. “That number will change drastically” Bodine said.