Boise Mayor On Face Masks, Fireworks And A New Public Health Order

Jun 25, 2020

Credit Carolyn Kaster / AP Images

In the wake of the Central District Health Department's order to pull Ada County back to Stage 3 restrictions, due to a recent eruption of COVID-19 cases, Mayor Lauren McLean issued a separate public health order for the City of Boise, intended to remain in effect for at least 30 days.

McLean visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the details of the citywide order, a 4th of July without any public fireworks display, and what it might take for her to issue a possible mandatory face-covering mandate.

“I am not afraid to make tough decisions or decisions that are unpopular. I think you've seen that in some of the decisions I've had to make in the last six months.”

Read the transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE It's Morning Edition, on Boise State Public Radio. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. A return to stage three, Boise taverns are closed again, and as we approach the 4th of July, what will that look like? Well, there's much to discuss with Boise Mayor, Lauren McLean. She joins us live this morning via Zoom. Mayor McLean, good morning.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Good morning. Thanks for having me, George.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about your public health order. I'm assuming that this is in sync with the order from Central District Health that brought the county back to stage three.

MCLEAN: It is. This returns Boise to Stage Three, and the reason I issued an order in addition to Central District Health doing that, is to address Boise's specific needs, including city council meetings that'll now be virtual, planning and zoning commission hearings that'll be virtual, and what is and isn't open, and then crowd control, or visitor control at the airport.

PRENTICE: A couple of other things here, I just want to take a look at this. By the way, bike bars, is that the pedal powered device that we see rolling around town?

MCLEAN: Yeah, so we did include bike bars in our order, because it's separate from our definition of bar in the city of Boise, and given the impact of what we've seen with regard to lack of social distancing or masking in bars, and because bike bars have their own special little section in our code, and we included that because it's just not possible to maintain social distancing on a bike bar, in the same way Central District Health is saying bars themselves are high risk.

PRENTICE: No public display of fireworks this 4th of July, right?

MCLEAN: That, of course, was a tough decision. We've been working in partnership with Garden City and Ada County to create a firework opportunity that would be more safe in the age of coronavirus out at the Fairgrounds, but given the new order and the limit of 50 people at events, and Central District Health saying that festivals and other venues need to close, we had to cancel fireworks and save all those fireworks we have, for a celebration in 2021.

PRENTICE: That said, we're beginning to see some of the tents pop up around town, and these are the vendors that sell so-called “safe and sane” fireworks, yes?

MCLEAN: Yes, and that's such a great classification, right? Safe and sane fireworks, the beauty of legal language. They are selling fireworks around town. Those fireworks are legal to use in our city limits, I think from sometime this weekend through July 5th. And we encourage everyone, if they're going to pop off fireworks, to do it safely, not to bring in those larger ones that are dangerous, that are sold other places, and you cannot do fireworks in the Foothills, or we'll have what we saw a couple of years ago around the 4th of July, big fires put people at risk.

PRENTICE: That said, it's usually a busy night for Boise Fire.

MCLEAN: It is usually a busy night.

PRENTICE: On the issue of the public health order, what prevents you from issuing a mandatory face covering order?

Credit Courtesy Lauren McLean

MCLEAN: I appreciate that question, George. These are the things that I think through with that, because the science is clear that when I put my mask on, I'm protecting you, and if you choose not to wear a mask around me, you're putting me at more risk, and if people walking down the streets were wearing masks, walking into buildings, were wearing masks, then we'd be able to stop the rapid spread that we're seeing right now. I am not afraid to make tough decisions or decisions that are unpopular. I think you've seen that in some of the decisions I've had to make in the last six months.

What's prevented me from taking this step, is my concern for the safety of our officers that would be expected to enforce it. I'm asking them to approach more people that are unmasked, and then the impact that that could potentially have with virus spreading in our ranks. But also, we have seen that this mask issue is something that has pushed people into corners and camps, and while I'm seeking to bring our community together to address this issue, and the economic crisis, I don't want to inadvertently create a situation where a requirement that's difficult to enforce, actually creates intentional conflict, when coming together is so important right now.

PRENTICE: That said, I'm certain that you amplify the proper use, and celebrate those who do use face coverings.

MCLEAN: Yes, I try to, and I notice now that when I walked down the street in a mask, people actually recognize me just by eyes, and I'm starting to do the same by others. Our city has the requirement of our employees that we wear them. I talk with our employees about why we need to model as leaders wearing masks. And yes, we try to seek out and amplify businesses that are masking, and their employees, and asking the public to mask when coming through, and support those businesses, because it's a tough call they made, but it's the right thing to do. And all of that said, if we continue to see escalated virus counts, in conversations with Central District Health and the leaders of the hospitals in this community, if it becomes absolutely necessary that our city do it, or that Central District Health do it, we'll take a look at that. It's never off the table, I just am really concerned about putting our employees in harm's way, and then creating opportunities where people can divide us purposely.

PRENTICE: I'd like to talk maybe a little bit more about the 4th of July, Independence Day, and maybe an opportunity to reconsider American ideology, and what this pandemic has revealed about us, what the Black Lives movement has revealed about us collectively, and maybe there might be an opportunity for us to reconsider what is an American, and what is an American ideal?

MCLEAN: George, I really love that question, and when we were thinking even about how to celebrate 4th of July, whether or not having fireworks would be safe with the crowds of people that come together, we talked here about, would it be possible to reimagine what a celebration looks like, based on the ideals of our nation, and what brought our founding fathers to attempt to create a more perfect union, recognizing the democracies? Day, by day, by day, requires citizens to work at it, always in pursuit of better justice, and could we do something that was a nod to the incredibly tough time we're in, the importance of community and connection to people, and progress in the long run?

Given the coronavirus, we weren't able to create that, but it really got me thinking about, what is it about the 4th of July, and who are we as a people, that we must reflect on and think about?, And then since then we've had the Black Lives Matters protest, the vigil here, the calls on us to do more. As Americans, we often think of ourselves as that that individual piece. Especially in the West, we were pioneers, we came out, we struck out on our own, but at the same time, if we want to create that more perfect union, we have a responsibility to think about how our actions impact others, and how we use our energy, thoughts, dialogue, and willingness to come together in common cause, to address today's needs, so many of which have been highlighted by coronavirus.

And I want to point out or share with you two things I've read recently. I picked up a speech by Frederick Douglass, that he gave to the Corinthian Society in Rochester, New York, on July 5th, 1852.

And this was a group of abolitionists that asked him to speak, and he took the opportunity to not only laud the wonder of our founding documents, and this experiment at that point, that was only 76 years old, that was our democracy, but to remind those people, and really, to remind our country, that those freedoms hadn't yet been extended to everyone. And he said, "Are the great principles of political freedom and of national justice embodied in that Declaration of Independence extended to us?" And he goes on to ask more questions and to point out that he, as a black man, still hadn't realized that promise of our nation, and we had a lot of work to do.

And then a hundred years later, Martin Luther King wrote, so in 1952, he says, "All I want is for us to make real what's already on paper." And we're still working hard to make real what's already on paper, as MLK asked us, that he said he wanted to do 60 plus years ago. It's our job as residents of this great country and of this city, to reflect on what we've seen come out of coronavirus, and the fissures in our own community, and then nationally, and to think how we take what was created before us with all its wonder, but also with all its weaknesses. And I'd call on all of us in this community to think about what our role is in achieving justice and equality for everyone, and that really includes everyone. And in these tough, tough times, it's more important than ever to get out of this, and that we double down on the beliefs that created this country on the importance of civic engagement and civil dialogue, and ultimately, our goals of achieving a better, more perfect union that's justice for everyone.

PRENTICE: She is Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. Thank you. Happy 4th of July to you.

Lauren McLean:

Thank you. Happy 4th of July, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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