City to distribute free masks while motion on face covering ordinance dies in council

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

The agenda item of greatest interest at the jam-packed July 15 meeting of the Sandpoint City Council revolved around the possibility of mandated mask-wearing in public places — a policy that has already been instituted in several cities around the state, including those from populous Ada County to relatively nearby Moscow. 

As of July 15, the city will not pursue any such mandate, nor did local officials indicate that the Panhandle Health District is poised to front a mask order — though the city does plan to distribute face masks free of charge to the public Friday, July 17 from 8-10 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. at Travers Park.

“Community members who need masks, business owners who need masks for their employees, employees who need masks for their employment are welcome,” said Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton.

The drive-through distribution effort will include 3,000 masks, given in batches of five masks at a time. 

“Should we see heavy demand, we can look at acquiring additional masks,” said Stapleton, who earlier in the meeting stated that, effective Monday, July 20, any member of the public who enters City Hall to interact with staff will be required to wear a mask.

Reiterating her previous stance of dire concern over escalating numbers of new COVID-19 cases in the county — and the fact that the tabulation methodology doesn’t take into account seasonal or temporary residents, thus making Bonner County’s number of positive cases necessarily lower than reported by media and PHD — Council member Deb Ruehle floated a motion that would put in place a city-directed mask requirement, saying “the science is there” relative to the efficacy of face coverings in limiting the spread of COVID-19, and pointing out that beyond other Idaho communities, the governor and even President Donald Trump have donned face protection.

“I don’t know what we’re waiting for,” she said.

Ruehle’s fellow council members balked at the motion, with Council President Shannon Williamson saying, “Deb, I’m not saying that your idea is not worth considering, there’s just so many details to consider that I think all six of us [council members] have strong feelings about.”

According to Ruehle, the horse has already bolted and the time for action may well have already passed.

Responding to Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon’s statement that a mask order “would be a challenge to effectively enforce,” she said, “I don’t think that’s an excuse not to do something that’s right.”

The motion died for lack of a second, but was followed by a robust period of public testimony, which, as of presstime, was still ongoing.

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