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Blaine County residents, Wyoming organization sue Hailey over mask mandate

An aerial view of the city of Hailey
Hailey, Idaho
Flickr Creative Commons

A Wyoming-based public benefit corporation is suing the city of Hailey over its face mask requirement.

Health Freedom Defense Fund, and five Blaine County residents, filed the complaint in federal court at the end of September against the city and Mayor Martha Burke. The fund’s president, Leslie Manookian, is a Blaine County resident.

The complaint says the Food and Drug Administration has not given final approval for face mask use against COVID-19 -- only emergency use authorization -- and therefore it says the government can’t mandate face coverings. It also disputes the efficacy of face masks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other scientists, have done several real-world studies and say community masking helps slow the transmission of COVID-19.

The complaint said the mask mandate constitutes “a grand medical experiment,” which violates the plaintiffs’ fundamental human rights.

“No government official has the right to deprive citizens of the right to breathe,” Manookian said in a press release.

Mask mandates have been upheld by courts across the country.

Throughout the pandemic, Idaho Gov. Brad Little has deferred decisions on mask requirements to the local level, and he has not imposed restrictions on local entities to pass mask requirements.

The city of Hailey, which was one of the first cities in Idaho to require face masks in the summer of 2020, said it won’t be making comments to reporters about the lawsuit.

Mayor Burke sent an “engagement letter” to Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson to represent the city in the lawsuit, and the city council is scheduled to discuss this on Tuesday.

The mask mandate is set to expire this week, but Hailey is considering extending it until Jan. 10.

This lawsuit is one of countless challenges to mask and vaccine requirements around the country over the course of the pandemic. It’s also one of several that Health Freedom Defense Fund has initiated or supported this year.

Manookian said the fund, which formed in Aug. 2020, has been involved with, or has in the works, 15-20 different lawsuits. They include a federal lawsuit in Florida over President Biden’s federal mask mandate for transportation, a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District over a proposed vaccine requirement and a lawsuit against the Phoenix Union High School District over the district’s mask requirement in a state that has a ban on such requirements.

“Our objective in all of those is to protect our rights,” Manookian said. Her website says she is a homeopath, a former business executive and is on the board of Health Freedom Idaho.

She said there are also plans to challenge the mask requirements reinstated by other cities in Blaine County and the Blaine County School District.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.