If the Panhandle Health District fails to adopt a mask order this week, the city of Coeur d’Alene will consider action of its own.
Following the disclosure this week that Kootenai Health’s critical care unit has reached its capacity, Coeur d’Alene City Councilmember Dan English called for a mask mandate at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“We need to do more,” English said.
The council agreed to schedule a special meeting Friday to discuss the proposal, but many members expressed reluctance to dictate the behavior of individuals – even if they personally encourage the use of masks.
The Panhandle Health District Board of Health is also scheduled to debate a mask mandate on Thursday. If approved, the district’s order would apply to Kootenai, Bonner, Boundary, Benewah and Shoshone counties.
If the health district adopts a mask mandate, the City Council’s meeting will be canceled.
Coeur d’Alene is not alone in its consternation, as numerous other cities and towns in Idaho, which has left decisions about such actions up to local governments, grapple with whether to make wearing a mask a matter of law.
English said Tuesday he is advocating for a mask order based on the statements and recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Panhandle Health District and Kootenai Health.
Backed up by mounting scientific research, English noted that the disease is spread through respiratory droplets, which can be limited by the use of a face covering.
COVID-19 cases in the Panhandle Health District continue to rise, and public health officials say the hospitalization rate reflects the disease’s spread days or weeks earlier.
“We need to make the decision now on the basis of what those numbers might be in two or three weeks,” English said.
Although Boise, Moscow and other Idaho cities and counties have taken action, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer has declined to order people wear masks in public when social distancing is impossible.
Widmyer told The Spokesman-Review this week that he encourages mask usage, but does not think an order could be enforced and does not believe they should be adopted on a city-by-city basis. Such a decision, he said, should be left to the health district and state government.
Councilmember Christie Wood, who retired as a sergeant with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, said there are many laws that are difficult to enforce “just by their sheer numbers.”
“You put a law in place, you use the resources you have, you do the best you can to impact public safety,” Wood said.
If it does not consider an individual mask mandate, Wood advocated the council at least take up a mandate for businesses “because that’s where everyone’s congregating.”
Councilmember Dan Gookin acknowledged that data supports the effectiveness of wearing masks but was hesitant to support a mask order. He preferred a recommendation, not a mandate.
“I don’t like using the hammer of government to force or to control people’s behavior,” Gookin said.
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