Central District Health will not implement a health order after a tie vote Tuesday afternoon.
In the high profile meeting, the board voted 3-3 on whether or not to implement a mask mandate, capacity limits for businesses and capping gatherings to 10 people in Ada, Valley, Boise and Elmore counties. Because the vote was a tie and Board Chair Betty Ann Nettleton opted not to break the tie, it failed.
Because the order failed, a health advisory will remain in place in all four counties encouraging social distancing, mask-wearing and other measures to slow the spread. The mask mandates in Ada and Valley counties will remain in place.
Rural vs urban board members
This proposed order comes as the spread of COVID-19 is spreading rapidly throughout the state and the disease was Idaho’s leading cause of death in November. Idaho Board of Health & Welfare unanimously voted to allow for the state to activate crisis standards of care, which is the rationing of healthcare if all of the resources are expended due to the pandemic.
This meeting is a reschedule from last week when the meeting to vote on the order was ended early at the request of Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and Boise Police Chief Lee due to the intensity of protests outside the building and at some homes of board members. Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo left the meeting upset after her 12-year-old son, who was home alone, called her about protesters outside their home.
At the top of the meeting, Central District Health Director Russ Drake said the majority of the feedback the health district received directly was in support of the order. Boise County Commissioner Ryan Stirm, Representative Megan Blanksma and Nettleton all said they heard strong opposition to the order in their counties.
Ada County’s three board members were in support, but they were matched by commissioners in Valley, Boise and Elmore counties voting against it. They said passing an order, with the possibility of a misdemeanor, would make residents angry and noncompliant. Instead, they hoped for education programs to encourage residents to comply.
Valley County Commissioner Elting Hasbrouck said Valley has been “doing a pretty good job” following its’ mask mandate and with social distancing so far. He said public health orders could result in lower rates of vaccinations down the line.
“If we make everybody mad by passing an order, when it comes to vaccinating people I think people are going to dig in their heels and that’s the last thing we need,” he said. “We need to get through this quick and encourage people to do what they’ve already been doing, at least in my county.”
Blanksma said she has seen an uptick in mask wearing in Elmore County and she pledged to help educating the importance of mask wearing and social distancing to her constituents.
“If we start focusing on more cooperation and more public interest, I think we’re actually going to have a higher level of success and a lot less negative interaction when it comes to the public,” she said.
Getting to 2021 ‘in better shape’
The order would not have shuttered businesses, schools or end visits to long-term care facilities in all four counties. Athletics could continue, but crowd sizes would be capped to 10 with masks and social distancing required. Educational activities involving students would not have been restricted and gatherings for religious worship or to protest would not be restricted.
Gyms would have been required to operate at 50% capacity, dance floors and bar tops would be closed and socially distant seating inside restaurants would be required.
After the vote failed, Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo lamented the fact that she could not have held a traditional memorial service for her father who died in August due to the virus. She pleaded with residents of the health district to follow the advisory as much as possible to keep the pandemic at bay so life could return to normal as soon as possible.
“We understand how hard this is, but we are begging you to help us get through the next few months so we don’t end up in crisis standards of care,” she said. “Please help us do what we need to do so we can make it through into 2021 in better shape.”
Ted Epperly, another board member from Ada County, said the health district’s case numbers are far above the metrics set in order for the mask mandate to be rescinded. In order for the restrictions to be lifted, the four counties inside Central District Health need roughly two cases per 100,000 residents. Right now, Epperley said the area is hovering around 85 to 90 cases per 100,000.
“We’re 45 times higher than what will take the masks and social gatherings limits away,” he said. “People need to understand that. This is 45 times higher than what we need to do to take the masks and social gatherings limits off.”