Board implements mask mandate for all five North Idaho counties


COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — The Panhandle Health District voted on Thursday to reinstate a mask mandate, which will now apply to people living in all five North Idaho counties served by the district.

The board voted 4-2 with member Walt Kirby abstaining from voting.

During the meeting, the board discussed incident rate as one of the main factors in supporting a mandate. Idaho’s IR sits at 4,837 cases per 100,000 population, while Washington — which has a much greater statewide population — has an IR of 1,769 per 100,000 population.

In other terms, Idaho has 2.7 times as many cases per capita than Washington.

Kootenai County has an IR of 3,791 per 100,000 people, while Spokane County has an IR of 2,525 per 100,000 people. That means Kootenai County has 1.5 times more cases per capita than Spokane County.

This all equates to a higher disease burden in Idaho.

All five counties served by the PHD – Bonner, Boundary, Benewah, Shoshone and Kootenai – also remain the “red” risk category, meaning testing positivity is greater than 20 percent and hospital capacity is at or above 100 percent.

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Board member Jai Nelson, who was in favor of a mandate, called on her fellow board members to represent the entire district when making their vote, not just their respective counties.

“It’s our job to provide leadership in a pandemic response. This is a test of our leadership,” Nelson said, while also calling on board members to abstain from voting if they do not believe in COVID.

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Board member Glen Bailey vocally opposed a mandate, saying “Most all of us resist being told ‘You will do this.’ We need to educate, we need to invite them to do it. But I disagree with a mandate saying ‘You will under penalty of law.’ That to me is totally wrong.’”

The mandate will be in effect for two months and will be discussed once again at the board’s January meeting.

Those found in violation of the mandate can face a misdemeanor charge, which carries a fine of up $1,000 and/or six months in jail.