Moscow did last month what much of the rest of North Idaho has resisted and what Kootenai County did Thursday despite vocal opposition: adopted a mask mandate.
Since June 30, the home of the University of Idaho has had a citywide ordinance in place requiring people to wear face masks in public settings – both indoor and outdoor – where 6-foot social distancing cannot be maintained with non-household members.
The ordinance was part of a public health emergency order Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert issued in response to a surge of reported coronavirus cases in Latah County and the state of Idaho.
Lambert said he felt it was his responsibility to require masks in Moscow because the state has issued few statewide safety regulations regarding COVID-19.
“We’ve been told each city and county is on its own – the governor has stated that he’s not going to have any type of mandate like this in place,” Lambert said. “I wanted to do this to protect our community and our university so that people feel safe.”
And while anti-mask sentiment has been strong in North Idaho, a number of Moscow businesses and community members have expressed gratitude to Lambert for his decision to implement the order, including Nectar, a locally-owned restaurant and wine bar located in downtown Moscow.
Nectar began requiring all of its employees patrons to wear face masks in the restaurant before the city-wide ordinance set in, so staff breathed a sigh of relief when the city followed suit with its policy.
“The ordinance made asking people to wear masks more well-received and easy to enforce,” said Nikki Woodland, Nectar’s owner. “For me, as a business owner, it was really nice to get that sort of leadership from the mayor.”
Levi Vixie, Nectar’s bar manager, said rebuilding the community’s sense of safety has appeared slow-going from his viewpoint as a service industry worker, but he appreciates the patrons who continue to frequent the restaurant in a safe and respectful manner.
“99% of the people who come in here – even if we didn’t have signs posted – would be maintaining 6-foot distances and wearing masks,” he said. “In general, this community seems to want to look out for each other, compared to other places I’ve lived.”
A unanimous Moscow City Council vote in early July extended the city’s mask requirement until Aug. 4.
“Yes, it’s a little bit of an inconvenience, but clearly it’s not a violation of anybody’s civil rights or rights under the Constitution,” Lambert said of the extension.
But not everyone’s onboard.
Toni Salerno-Baird, owner of Palouse Juice, a downtown smoothie and juice bar, has been vocal in her opposition to the ordinance.
Salerno-Baird said she has done a lot of research about the negative health effects of face mask-wearing because wellness is one of her passions and, in her eyes, they do more harm than good.
“It’s giving us a false sense of security where we think we are OK as long as we have a mask on, but true health comes from inside,” she said about the ordinance. “In order for us to beat this, we need to get back to health and wellness by our diets, exercise, supplements, fresh air and sunshine. We need to support our immune systems in such a way where we’re not crippled by the next virus, the next bacteria or the next germ.”
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