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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Legal Problems Upend North Idaho Push To Defund Public Health

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A move to partially defund Panhandle District Health by a Bonner County Commissioner fell flat Tuesday morning.

Commissioner Steven Bradshaw floated the resolution last week, which would’ve withheld future payments and clawed back money already given to Panhandle District Health, over its recent five-county mask mandate. But legal counsel for the commission diverted the resolution to a desk drawer.

“We did get an opinion from the [Bonner County] Prosecutor’s Office and we cannot defund [Panhandle District Health] at this time,” said Bonner County Commissioner Dan McDonald.

Instead, McDonald said the county could take up the issue when it sets its new budget next summer. State law requires counties to fund part of their region’s public health district based on population and property values.

During fiscal year 2020, which ran from Oct. 1, 2019 to Sept. 30, 2020, Bonner County allocated $253,399. It’s already sent one quarterly payment this fiscal year to Panhandle District Health for $64,246, according to the county.

During the time reserved for debate over the resolution, commissioners instead all reiterated their stances against such mandates.

Bradshaw, the resolution’s author, said he wasn’t trying to put the health district out of business. He said he was simply reacting to what he considers an illegal act.

“Not only violated the Constitution of the United States, but it violated the Constitution and the statutes of the state of Idaho,” he said.

Mask mandates have been upheld by state courts across the country as constitutional, including in Kentucky and Wisconsin.

Commissioners also downplayed the effects the coronavirus can have on younger people and questioned the efficacy of masks, something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said helps to stop transmission – both for someone shedding the virus and those who come into contact with them.

McDonald said the elderly and those with compromised immune systems should be the ones who take precautions.

“Please, do all you can to protect yourself. It’s your responsibility to protect your own health. It’s not the rest of the public’s responsibility, in my opinion, to protect your own health,” he said.

While COVID-19 infections are generally milder for younger people, it can still lead to significant and even long-term health complications after they’ve recovered from the initial illness. Twenty-seven out of Idaho’s 929 deaths were under the age of 50.

Gov. Brad Little has resisted a blanket mandate, leaving it up to each of the state’s seven public health districts to make those decisions.

State lawmakers have made it clear they intend to review the powers and authorities of Idaho’s public health districts. They’re poised to return to Boise in January.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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