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Nampa councilman compares potential COVID-19 protocols to racial segregation

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 20, 2021

Nampa councilman Darl Bruner speaks during a meeting March 4, 2019.
Nampa councilman Darl Bruner speaks during a meeting March 4, 2019.
By Paul Schwedelson Idaho Press Idaho Press

NAMPA – During a lengthy comment portion of Nampa’s City Council meeting last week, Councilman Darl Bruner said some COVID-19 protocols such as vaccine and mask requirements could be compared to racial segregation.

Bruner’s comments came after Mayor Debbie Kling said she was considering reinstalling plastic-glass barriers between the councilmembers’ seats as a health safety measure but multiple councilmembers said they didn’t want the barriers.

Reading from prepared comments, Bruner prefaced his speech with a statement that the comments to follow were his alone and that he is not anti-vaccine but rather that he believes in personal choice when it comes to vaccinations and mask-wearing.

“I would not retain my reputation without one outlandish statement. The question is, is it outlandish? I certainly hope so,” Bruner said. “I believe having lived in the ’60s – you can tell by this gray hair I’ve been around long – and the atrocities of racial segregation, and we may be heading for the same. In this case, not keeping the Negroes, as was the terminology used in the ’60s, in their proper place. Back of the bus, segregated schools and even separate water fountains. Is there a chance that noncompliant vaxxers, mask-wearers would also be treated the same? Please, please, in the United States of America, let’s allow personal choice. Make decisions on an individual family basis and stop passing on our fears to our children.”

During Bruner’s nearly six minutes of comments, he questioned the effectiveness of face masks, the risk of COVID-19 for children and how health care providers treat nonhospitalized COVID-19 patients. Health officials have supported wearing face masks for more than a year and have encouraged people to get the vaccine since it became widely available.

With COVID-19 spreading rapidly again, vaccine requirements are becoming more common. Local hospitals have added the COVID-19 vaccine to their list of required vaccines for employees. Treefort Music Fest in Boise announced last week that it will require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to enter. Boise Goathead Fest, a bicycling festival, will require masks.

Prior to reading his comments Bruner had voiced dissension to Kling’s plan to reinstall the plastic glass. But it was Bruner’s choice to compare pandemic safety measures to segregation that drew scrutiny.

Phillip Thompson, board president and executive director of the Idaho Black History Museum, called Bruner’s comparison to racial segregation “asinine.”

“It’s being done solely to get attention and to push their own agenda or minimize the given conversation,” Thompson said, “that it’s pointless to even give people who make such ridiculous equivocations any attention.”

After Bruner completed his comments, he received applause from fellow councilmembers Victor Rodriguez, Sandi Levi, Randy Haverfield and Jacob Bower.

Kling and Councilwoman Jean Mutchie didn’t applaud. Mutchie is a community health manager at St. Luke’s Health System who said health care workers are getting tired as hospitals fill up again.

Mutchie offered to have doctors from St. Luke’s address the city council to answer Bruner’s health-related questions. Levi said she’d want to speak to doctors who represent “both sides.”

Bruner declined a phone interview Tuesday. In an email, he stood by his comments.

When asked why he chose the comparison to racial segregation, Bruner wrote in an email, “I do not believe we will ever reach the atrocity level of the racial segregation in the ’60s, but I am seeing public segregation as a reality with those who have and have not received the vaccination(s). My hope and prayer is for this division to not heighten. I am so proud to live in the City of Nampa that cares and respects individual rights and freedoms, and is unwilling to place mandates upon its citizens.”

After Bruner’s comments last Monday, Rodriguez said it was “like a breath of fresh air.”

Thompson said the racial comparison reflects today’s political climate.

“Either they’re just completely tone deaf or it’s just the theatre of the absurd to try to get attention,” Thompson said. “It’s not surprising in that regard.”

The council discussion took place two weeks after Nampa adopted a resolution to not require COVID-19 vaccinations for city employees. Bruner and other councilmembers emphasized a preference for personal choice regarding vaccines and masks.

Across Idaho, COVID-19 cases increased dramatically in recent weeks. There were more than 700 new positive cases all but two days from Aug. 10 to Aug. 16, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state didn’t add more than 500 new positive cases in a single day from early February until late July.

With the highly contagious delta variant spreading throughout Idaho, the increased cases have led to hospitals nearing capacity.

In a news conference Tuesday, state health officials said hospitals in Idaho are “completely stressed.” At a press conference last week, Gov. Brad Little urged people to get vaccinated. He said since Jan. 1, unvaccinated people account for 98.6% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 98.7% of COVID-19 deaths.

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