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All of Ada Co. joins Boise in mask mandate. What it means

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COVID-19 Idaho

For nearly two weeks, the City of Boise required citizens to use masks in most public situations. Now the rest of Ada County – including Meridian, Star, Garden City, Kuna and Eagle will also require face masks.

Central District Health’s Board of Public Health made the decision Tuesday after first considering it last week. The district covers Ada, Boise, Elmore, and Valley counties, but the order only covers Ada Co. for now. There was a discussion of extending the order to Valley and Boise counties in the future.

[Top hospital leaders on COVID-19: The latest facts, and what they hope happens]

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Health leader on the current situation

Earlier Tuesday, a group of leaders from each of the health groups in the Treasure Valley held a news conference outlining their concerns about the impact of COVID on public health.

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ICCU: Business Unusual

During the public health board meeting, the top medical official at Saint Alphonsus tried to lay out the situation as he sees it.

“Face coverings are a benefit,” Dr. Steven Nemerson, Saint Alphonsus Chief Clinical Officer said. “The more people whose faces are covered out in the world, the more effective we are in containing virus spread.”

He said the effects of COVID continues to increase.

“Bottom line, the virus in people in all of our communities throughout the state is increasing at a multiplicative, or exponential rate,” Nemerson said. “The most accurate estimates are showing a doubling of COVID-hospital volume every two to four weeks.”

[First-person account: I got COVID in Boise. I’m fine, but here’s what I went through]

Nemerson said while hospital capacity have “sufficient capacity” to care for the community, but said demand for COVID care is starting to compete with non-COVID care like urgent surgeries or regular doctor visits.

“Without any further intervention, the problem is going to continue to grow and compromise the well-being of our community,” Nemerson said.

He said the demand for testing as gone up 20x to 40x in the last two months – and the health system has limited who can get a test.

“It’s a very very rare circumstance where someone can’t wear a face covering,” Nemerson said. “There are some circumstances where someone has very very severe – so debilitating where someone can’t leave their home – respiratory disease or cardiac disease. It’s a rare exception.”

“The mask protects you to a small extent, but it protects others from you to a great extent,” Nemerson said.

Health district leaders on face masks

“We’ve been begging. We’ve been pleading. It seems antithetical to have the government tell people what to do,” Ada Co. Commissioner and Public Health Board member Diana Lachiondo, a Democrat, said. “But that’s what we’re hearing from business owners. We hear they don’t feel protected if they are the ones telling customers they have to wear the mask.”

“A good human being does what’s right for their fellow man,” Boise County Commissioner Ryan Stirm, a Republican, said. “Take care of yourself to take care of everyone else. I don’t think it’s a Republican thing and I don’t think it’s a Democrat thing. It’s a human thing. “You could save someone’s life. If it inconveniences you for a short period of time to save someone’s life, so be it.”

“We have an opportunity here to make an impact on the virus. We have to do the right thing from a public health perspective. It’s more than health,” Dr. Ted Epperly who serves on the board said. “We actually will improve the ability of people to continue to work, for employers for jobs and for our economy. It’s a very simple action we can do for our society. Face masks will reduce the spread of this by 85% or more, and I think we need to act on that now.”

“I have deep concerns about what the chain reaction to it and if we are doing enough about it,” Rep. Megan Blanska of Elmore County said. “I’m concerned about the consequences about a mandatory mask order into place. There’s a little blip on enforcement. How are we going to administer this? Is it going to increase confirmation into place? I think that we are doing ourselves a disfavor for not coming up with a long-term plan for education and outreach. I don’t know if what we’re doing right here is necessarily sustainable.”

“It changes your attitude when you know someone who has gotten it, or someone who has died from it, or someone who has exposed you,” Valley County Commissioner Elt Hasbrouck, a Republican, said. Hasbrouck said he had been exposed by someone, and also had a family member with COVID.

Exceptions, details

Masks are required in all public places – both indoors and outdoors – where social distance of six feet or more is not possible. The order matches much of the guidance given earlier in Boise, with a few exceptions. The masks must cover a person’s nose and mouth.

  • Kids under two. This is a change from Boise’s under-five requirement. It will also now impact Boise as well as the rest of the county.
  • People who can’t ‘medically tolerate’ a face covering. Documentation is not required.
  • Those who are hearing impaired
  • Those whose job duties would be impaired by wearing a mask – including police.
  • Eating or drinking in public as long as people can stay six feet away from those outside their home.
  • People receiving a personal service involving the nose, face, or head where the removal of the face covering is needed.

The public health order went into effect immediately.

In addition to Boise, Ada County joins McCall, Hailey, Moscow, and several other locations around the state in requiring masks.

“Speaking as a person who cares deeply about Idaho, the train has left the station,” Nemerson said. “The COVID train is moving. We are headed to become New York, California, Arizona, Houston. The gift we’ve been given is time to turn the train around. Covering everyone’s face will make a big difference.”

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Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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