masks

District Director Geri Rackow listens to attorney Michael Kane during a Board of Health meeting at the Eastern Idaho Public Health building on Thursday, July 9.

A weekend surge of COVID-19 cases in eastern Idaho led regional health officials Tuesday to mandate masks in public and ban large events in Bonneville County, where the spike was most stark.

Eastern Idaho Public Health district’s Board of Health voted unanimously to adopt the order, less than a week after it issued nearly identical mandates for Teton County.

The mandate is effective immediately.

Anyone who violates the order can be charged with a misdemeanor, which could carry up to $300 in fines, 6 months in jail or both. But Board Chairman Bryon Reed said enforcement would be a last resort measure held off for certain cases.

“For us to expect our law enforcement to be out there consistently monitoring this is unrealistic ... on the other hand, if there was an egregious case and someone was blatantly standing up in protest of it, I think that they would most likely be charged and should be,” Reed said.

Both Bonneville and Teton counties breached a threshold to reach so-called moderate risk level, as outlined in the board’s four-tier pandemic response plan. The surge triggered the vote on Bonneville’s mandates, which the heightened risk level calls for.

Reed said he didn’t want to mandate masks, but the consensus from medical and infectious disease experts is clear — masks work to reduce the spread. He and other board members, like Shayne Young, who represents Jefferson County, said it could keep businesses open.

“I just think that the best way to preserve our freedom and our liberty and to allow everyone to go out and live their lives ... (is) to implement this plan,” Reed said.

An area is at the moderate risk level when it has more than 10 active cases per every 10,000 residents for at least three days, or when 90% of intensive care unit beds are used, according to the plan adopted last week. Bonneville first breached that threshold Saturday and remained above it Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. As of Tuesday night, Bonneville’s rate was 10.3 active cases per 10,000 residents.

The region at large remains in the minimal risk level of the plan, which aims to preserve hospital resources. Regional doctors at Tuesday’s meeting said they’re seeing more and more COVID-19 patients, and intensive care unit capacity is stressed now because the summer typically brings in more trauma cases to them. In a pandemic, they said that creates a bad recipe.

Active cases are confirmed and probable cases that the health district is still monitoring, as opposed to recovered cases. People are considered inactive, or recovered, after 10 days pass from the date their symptoms started and three days after their symptoms improve, according to the health district’s Facebook page.

When an area enters a higher risk level, such as Bonneville did this week, the plan says it should stay in that risk level throughout the incubation period for coronavirus, 14 days. But the order allows for the board to decide, at any time, to amend, supersede or repeal the order. The board must vote on mandates individually before it implements them.

Bonneville’s mask mandate says masks must be worn in public places, indoors or outdoors, when a person cannot stay 6 feet away from people who don’t live with them. Masks can be homemade or store-bought, but they must cover the nose and mouth of people, per the order, and cannot have holes.

Some exemptions are offered to the mask mandate, including for people with medical conditions that make them unable to wear masks and on-duty law enforcement.

The order isn’t a shutdown. Events and gatherings of more than 150 people are banned. People can eat can in restaurants without masks, but they must wear masks when they leave their tables.

Cities can levy more strict restrictions than the health district orders, but they cannot implement more lax restrictions.

Before the board adopted the mandate, health district director Geri Rackow said she received feedback about Teton’s mandate from someone who asked if the board would allow for more people to attend events outside where health measures are followed. The board did not amend the order on Tuesday, but it could later on.Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.