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Federal judge hears arguments over Hailey's mask mandate

Sign on a door with a drawing of two people wearing face masks that says "face coverings required"

A federal judge in Boise heard arguments Wednesday in a case over Hailey’s order to wear masks in public spaces.

Chief U.S. District Judge David Nye heard arguments for three motions by Zoom.

One was from the plaintiffs: Sandpoint-based Health Freedom Defense Fund and five Blaine County residents, who filed their case in federal court last September. Their lawyer, Allen Shoff, said the judge should force Hailey to abandon its mask mandate under a preliminary injunction because masks are ineffective and can be harmful to people wearing them.

The case’s broader claims include that mask mandates constitute a “grand medical experiment,” violating the plaintiffs’ human rights.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded from several real-world studies that wearing masks helps prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that in most scenarios it poses “no significant adverse health effects for wearers,” including children.

The lawyer for the city, Deborah Ferguson, said Wednesday that mask mandates are effective public health policies and that the city has authority under state and federal law to issue them.

The city’s first motion in the hearing was to dismiss the case entirely. Ferguson said there is no fundamental right not to wear a mask. She highlighted there are several exceptions to Hailey’s order and that people don’t need a doctor’s note to claim a medical exemption as evidence that the plaintiffs are not harmed by the mask rules.

The city also asked the judge to strike some of the plaintiffs’ witness testimony, saying the experts they selected were not qualified to speak to things like masks and mask mandates. The plaintiffs rebutted that those experts, including a German psychologist and alternative medicine advocate, were indeed qualified to provide the testimony.

Judge Nye said he will try to issue decisions before Hailey’s mask order is set to expire in April.

Hailey extended its mask mandate this week for 60 days, but Mayor Martha Burke said it could be rescinded earlier if Blaine County’s risk level published by the South Central Public Health District improves.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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