Panhandle Health District poised to revisit mask mandate

Bonner County surpasses 100 coronavirus cases, BGH offers new testing location

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

The Panhandle Health District will again look at taking some action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic at its meeting Thursday, July 23 in Coeur d’Alene, after discussion of a Kootenai County mask mandate on July 16 was met with public opposition and inaction on the part of board members.

While the agenda item for the July 23 meeting does not specifically name a mask mandate as a possible action, the item appears the same as it did on the July 16 agenda, when masks were discussed: “COVID-19 Update and Potential Board of Health Response in Kootenai County (Possible Action Item).”

PHD’s mulling of mandatory face coverings comes as North Idaho and the state as a whole sees climbing COVID-19 case numbers, prompting several southern counties to consider and even pass mask mandates to curb the spread of respiratory droplets in public spaces. As of 5 p.m. on July 22, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare logged 16,322 cases statewide since the pandemic started, and 135 deaths from the virus.

Total cases in Bonner County, according to the PHD, reached 102 on July 22, 50 of which were active. 

The PHD Kootenai County HQ in Hayden. Courtesy photo.

Bonner General Health rolled out a new testing location July 21 “in an effort to accommodate the increased need for COVID-19 testing.” Those seeking a test must first have one ordered through their primary care provider, then BGH will call the patient and provide testing hours, which vary week to week. For testing, enter at Third Avenue and Alder Street — under the hospital sky bridge — follow the signs and stay in the car. 

At its July 16 meeting, the PHD board entertained a motion to make mask usage mandatory in Kootenai County. The motion failed to see a second, so board members resolved to again take up the issue at a later meeting. 

“Yes, we can make a recommendation that people wear a mask, especially if they’re symptomatic. But I see no reason that we should mandate the usage of a mask,” said Bonner County PHD Board Member and former County Commissioner Glen Bailey, whose statement drew applause from people attending the meeting both in person and via Zoom video call. 

“This has become not just a health issue but a political issue,” he said. “I don’t think we need to be involved as a health board generating more of a political issue.”

The PHD meeting at which possible actions will be further discussed is slated for 12:30 p.m. at the Kootenai County Administration Building, 451 N. Government Way in Coeur d’Alene.

In a press release, PHD officials said public comment at the July 23 meeting will be welcome “regarding district related issues that are included on the current agenda,” and that prior to commenting, participants are asked to fill out a public comment form. Meeting officials will refer to names on the forms to call commenters to the podium. After commenting, members of the public are asked to leave in order to make room for others to comment while maintaining social distance in the meeting room.

“Obstructive behavior will not be tolerated,” the release stated. “Protest signs are allowed outside, but will not be allowed inside the meeting room or building. Entrances and exits will be clearly marked for the public’s convenience and we ask that everyone behave with courtesy.”

A live stream of the meeting will be available on the Kootenai County Idaho YouTube channel. According to The Spokesman-Review, if PHD does not adopt a mask mandate, the city of Coeur d’Alene will consider doing so at a special meeting set for Friday, July 24.

An ordinance to mandate face coverings in Sandpoint also recently failed to see a second, after Councilwoman Deb Ruehle introduced the motion at the July 15 regular meeting of the City Council. While Ruehle argued that “the science is there” to justify such an ordinance, her fellow council members did not support the proposal.

However, Sandpoint did host a drive-thru mask giveaway event on July 17. While the distribution was slated to take place from 8-10 a.m. and again later in the day from 4-6 p.m., city officials reported that due to an “overwhelming” response, all 3,000 availalable masks had been handed out by 10 a.m.

In a statement on the City of Sandpoint Facebook page, officials said the city had “more masks on order” and would announce another distribution event once those masks were received.

Additional reporting by Ben Olson.

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