Cda masks, not masks, Oct. 21 S-R photo

This Oct. 21, 2020 file photo on Coeur d'Alene's Sherman Avenue shows some wearing masks, others not.

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Four of Idaho’s seven public health districts held Board of Health meetings Thursday, with each approaching the pandemic in markedly different ways, writes Idaho Public TV reporter Melissa Davlin. The outcomes included a district-wide mask mandate in the Panhandle Health District in North Idaho, a first for the state; a new mask mandate in Custer County in eastern Idaho; and rejection of a district-wide mask mandate in the Magic Valley's South Central Public Health District, despite severe conditions in local hospitals overrun by COVID-19 patients.

The day’s series of meetings and votes was emblematic of the patchwork local approach that has defined Idaho’s efforts to control the COVID-19 outbreak, Davlin writes, as Gov. Brad Little continues to defer to cities, counties, and public health districts for decisions on mitigation. 

In North Idaho, the Panhandle Health District voted to impose a 60-day mask mandate throughout its five-county region. The district-wide mandate is the first of its kind in Idaho; Previously, other Boards of Health have put mandates in place county-by-county, while others have declined all mandates.

The debate wasn’t without contention, with Kootenai County’s Jai Nelson telling board members to abstain from voting if they weren’t willing to make difficult decisions. Bonner County’s Glen Bailey, who voted against the mandate, accused Nelson of using scare tactics, and Boundary County Commissioner Walt Kirby abstained from the vote and threatened to resign.

In eastern Idaho, the Board of Health received an update from three regional hospitals and the Idaho Falls fire chief. The board then unanimously voted to place Custer County under a public health order that includes a mask mandate after rising cases there.

After lengthy public testimony and discussion from the commissioners, South Central Public Health District’s board narrowly turned down a district-wide mask mandate. In one of the more confusing moves of the day, Gooding County Commissioner Helen Edwards voted against a motion to table the mandate proposal, then voted against implementing the mandate itself. Ultimately, the proposal failed on a 4-5 vote.

You can read Davlin's full report here at her Idaho Reports blog.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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