Twin Falls City Council Takes Step Toward Mask Mandate
Twin Falls could have a mask mandate as early as next week. On Monday night, the Twin Falls City Council voted 5-2 to direct city staff to draft an ordinance requiring face masks in public. It will receive an official vote during next Monday's council meeting.
Councilmember Shawn Barigar, the former city mayor, requested the discussion. He said citizens have heard recommendations to wear masks from every level of government.
“And they’re not working -- they’re not being paid attention to. So, I would argue we need something stronger and that would be an ordinance,” he said during Monday's council meeting.
Health officials at Magic Valley hospitals have asked local leaders to take action to help the overwhelmed facilities. They’ve specifically asked for mask mandates. But after those pleas, the South Central Public Health District Board voted against a mask mandate two weeks ago.
St. Luke’s Magic Valley in Twin Falls admitted a record 56 patients with COVID-19 last week. The hospital has, on occassion, had to send overflow patients to Boise due to a lack of available staffed beds. The latest data available on the health system's dashboard shows 42 patients with COVID-19 in the Twin Falls hospital on Sunday.
On Monday evening, the five Twin Falls City Councilmembers who voted in favor on moving forward with a mask mandate -- Vice-mayor Ruth Pierce, Shawn Barigar, Greg Lanting, Craig Hawkins and Chris Reid -- expressed concern about the hospital being overwhelmed.
They said they received many public comments in advance of the discsussion, and noted that several comments from the business community were in favor of mandating masks, as those businesses feared that further spread of the virus would continue to hurt them economically.
One 'no' vote came from Councilmember Nikki Boyd who minimized the threat of the virus and repeated false claims about the dangers of mask wearing.
Boyd, who said she had COVID-19 herself, said some people develop mold on their lungs or develop rashes on their faces due to wearing masks. Local physicians have said there are very few medical conditions that would prevent someone from safely wearing a face mask. Boyd called the mandate "hysterical" and said it was "made to be fearful."
Mayor Suzanne Hawkins also voted against moving forward with a mask mandate, saying it wouldn't work to boost compliance.
“I am not in favor of any kind of an ordinance or a mandate that would force our citizens to have to comply to some arbitrary rule that we make so we can say that we tried," Hawkins said.
Hawkins has repeatedly made the claim that Ada County's mask mandate did not work, as people who did not want to wear masks ventured to neighboring communities without the same restrictions. Though empirical data is limited, health leaders have said Ada County's mandate led to greater compliance and helped curb a trend of drastically increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Treasure Valley over the summer.
She said she believes her understanding of what happened in Ada County would play out in Twin Falls, with Twin Falls residents putting other Magic Valley communities at risk.
Earlier in the day, in a meeting called by Hawkins, Gooding Mayor Jeff Brekke told the Twin Falls mayor that he could envision a mask mandate in Twin Falls hurting Gooding because Twin Falls residents might go there instead. But Jerome Mayor David Davis said he didn't believe that would happen to his community. Davis said the Jerome City Council will potentially discuss a mask mandate on Tuesday evening and it will take into consideration Twin Falls' descision.
During the mayors' Monday meeting, leaders from several small Magic Valley communities discussed strategies to communicate with the public about adhering to virus mitigration recommendations. The group decided to craft a statement urging the public to wear masks, but it said it would do so after the election.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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