Idaho hit its highest daily total of coronavirus cases this week with 341 new confirmed cases reported on Tuesday. Now some local governments are responding by mandating face coverings in public.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to include new information.
Hailey and Moscow made wearing face masks mandatory in most indoor and outdoor public places on Tuesday evening. Since then, McCall, Driggs, Boise, Ketchum and Victor have passed similar orders. Bellevue initially voted against a face mask mandate, but reversed course a couple weeks later.
The board of Central District Health has issued an order requiring masks for Ada County and the board for Eastern Idaho Public Health has mandated masks for Teton and Bonneville counties.
“It is a very simple ask that when you walk inside you put a mask on before you enter, and then you take it off as soon as you get out," said Hailey Councilmember Kaz Thea.
Hailey's city council voted unanimously to make masks mandatory in public places, including in retail businesses, government offices and outdoor spaces where other people are around. The penalty for not complying is an infraction, not a misdemeanor, and an $100 fine, which the council decided to bring down from $300.
"It's too bad that we have to come and mandate this," Thea said. "But, like you, I desperately want school to start, I want our economy to chug along and not have everything shut down.”
Both cities list exceptions for the mask ordinances, including for people with medical conditions and disabilities, and in certain other circumstances.
Wearing a face mask is one tool public health officials know slows the spread of the coronavirus. Political leaders in Idaho, including Governor Brad Little and Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, have been hesitant to mandate face coverings, but after a few Idaho cities passed public health orders this week, McLean issued one for Boise on Thursday.
Gov. Little has pointed to the fact that not all Idaho counties have a confirmed COVID-19 case and that not everyone would comply as reasons for not establishing a binding order.
During Hailey's council meeting, Thea said she usually favors approaches that educate the public, but she worries the community doesn’t have the time to rely on educational campaigns as Idaho’s cases rapidly rise.
Even though Blaine County has had only a trickle of daily cases in the past couple months, Thea pointed to the increases elsewhere as a cause for concern because when Blaine County was hitting its peak number of cases, it sent a number of patients to Boise and Twin Falls hospitals, something it would need to do during a second spike.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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