TWIN FALLS — The South Central Public Health District board finalized Wednesday a resolution “strongly encouraging” individuals to wear masks in public places where others are present.
The nine-member board, which has one representative from each of the eight Magic Valley counties and a medical consultant, already approved a resolution strongly encouraging masks last week. This week the board held a special meeting to review and approve the language in that resolution.
Three board members voted against the final resolution Wednesday, saying that merely encouraging people to wear masks isn’t a strong enough action to slow the increase of COVID-19 infections in the Magic Valley. The district board’s decision not to institute a mask mandate comes at a time when Idaho hospital leaders have called for a statewide mask requirement.
Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary, Blaine County’s representative on the health district board, voted against the resolution both last week and Wednesday. McCleary called the resolution weak and said she’d like to see a district-wide mandate. She also asked the board to remove language in the resolution that implied masks are not encouraged when social distancing of 6 feet can be maintained.
“That makes it much, much more relaxed than what we agreed to in Blaine County,” McCleary said.
Blaine County, which was rocked by an explosion of COVID-19 cases in late March and early April, has mandated masks, as have Hailey, Ketchum, Bellevue and Sun Valley.
Blaine County leaders have been the most vocal mask mandate proponents in the Magic Valley but they aren’t the only ones calling a resolution insufficient.
“I don’t enjoy wearing those masks either,” said Tracy Haskin, Minidoka County’s representative on the board. “I do it for the health of my community.”
Haskin, who along with McCleary was one of the two who voted against the resolution last week, pointed out that Idaho medical professionals have urged the state’s health districts to impose mask mandates. Two doctors from St. Luke’s spoke at the health district board meeting last week explaining both the value of mask wearing and how rises in COVID-19 hospitalizations are straining the Magic Valley hospital system.
Doctors and nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic say there’s scientific proof that wearing masks is an important step in slowing the spread of the virus, Haskin said.
“Why would we not want (to slow the spread) for our community?” she said.
Pamela Jones, Camas County’s representative on the board, said she regretted voting in favor of the resolution last week. She voted against the resolution Wednesday. On the South Central Public Health District’s website, Jones is listed as a registered nurse.
Board Chairwoman Linda Montgomery of Jerome, Twin Falls County Commissioner Brent Reinke, Cassia County Commissioner Bob Kunau, Lincoln County Commissioner Roy Hubert and Gooding County Commissioner Helen Edwards all voted in favor of the proposal.
Dr. Keith Davis, the board’s medical consultant, did not attend the meeting and did not cast a vote. He voted in favor last week.
There were a handful of area residents in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting. Several were protestors at last week’s meeting outside the health district Twin Falls office, holding anti-mask signs. None of those individuals wore masks Wednesday, despite the fact that the district both required and asked them to wear masks.
South Central Public Health District spokeswoman Brianna Bodily said the district chose to temporarily suspend the requirement when the individuals ignored it.
McCleary said the individuals’ refusals to wear masks shows the uselessness of the district’s July 15 resolution to “strongly encourage” masks.
“It doesn’t look like people are wearing face masks,” she said. “Obviously the ‘strongly recommended’ isn’t cutting it.”