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Health board unanimously passes order mandating masks in Bonneville County

Coronavirus

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IDAHO FALLS — Masks are now mandatory in Bonneville County following a unanimous vote by Eastern Idaho Public Health’s Board of Directors on Tuesday night.

The board is made up of a commissioner from each of the district’s member counties including Bonneville, Madison, Jefferson, Fremont, Teton, Clark, Custer and Lemhi, and Dr. Barbara Nelson, the board’s physician representative.

The order of restriction officially moves Bonneville County from low risk to moderate risk on the EIPH COVID-19 Regional Response Plan, and mandates masks and limited gatherings.

Effective immediately, every person in Bonneville County is “required to wear a face covering that completely covers the person’s nose and mouth when the person is in a public place, and other non­household members are present and physical distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained.”

Additionally, social gathering and events, both public and private, of more than 150 are now prohibited.

The order of restriction is in place for 14 days, and it will be reevaluated afterward depending on the number of active COVID-19 cases in the district. The move from low to moderate was prompted by Bonneville County exceeding 120 active cases for four consecutive days in a row. Bonneville County saw a major surge in cases over the weekend. As of Tuesday afternoon, the county had 123 active cases being monitored by the district.

Bonneville County Commissioner Bryon Reed, who is also chairman of the health board said he was torn on the order, because he doesn’t want to infringe on the rights of others. However, he said if wearing a mask can slow the spread of COVID-19 and allow the economy to continue moving forward, he was for it.

“If the simple act of wearing a mask does help, we have to consider that,” he said. “I don’t want to infringe on people’s rights, but sometimes we have laws in place to allow us to have more freedoms … especially if it keeps businesses open and protects the people that run businesses.”

Madison County Commissioner Todd Smith brought up concerns about how the order would be enforced. State statute dictates violations of orders drafted by health districts are criminal misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to a $300 fine, up to six months in jail, or both.

The board discussed that it was unrealistic to expect local law enforcement to enforce every violation, and that the order was primarily meant to offer further encouragement for people to wear masks. But Reed clarified that it does give officers and deputies the tools to enforce the order in particularly “egregious cases.”

The order was passed after a lengthy meeting where all the local hospitals gave reports to the district regarding their experiences with COVID-19.

In all, every hospital in the district is seeing a surge in patients coming in to be treated for COVID-19, but most patients are treated and released. None of the hospitals have a large number of hospitalized COVID-19 inpatients. Idaho Falls Community Hospital has eight COVID-19 patients, with three in the ICU. Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center has six, all of which are in the ICU, and two inpatients awaiting test results. Madison Memorial Hospital in Rexburg and Steele Memorial Medical Center in Salmon, each have one inpatient, but they are not in an ICU.

All of the hospital representatives expressed concerns that while the virus presents as mild in most patients, as it increasingly spreads, more severe cases present themselves. It has the potential to overwhelm hospital resources. Idaho Falls Community Hospital Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. Richard Nathan spoke during the meeting and talked about the significant amount of resources and expense that each hospitalized patient incurs.

EIRMC physicians said that while they don’t have many COVID-19 patients in the ICU, the unit is still nearing nearly capacity from people with other ailments. EIRMC representative Coleen Niemann said the hospital is seeing some of the busiest trauma season they’ve seen in the last decade, and COVID-19 patients could compound the problem.

All the hospital representatives, and other health officials at the meeting, recommended mask wearing as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19 from an infected person to others.

The number of active COVID-19 cases continues to rise within the health district. Those numbers are monitored and updated by the district daily. See the numbers here. EastIdahoNews.com releases a detailed weekly report on COVID-19 numbers statewide every Wednesday.

COVID-19 has an extremely high recovery rate, and the vast majority of people who catch the virus will recover at home with no problems.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and our local health districts encourage everyone to practice preventive measures to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. This includes staying home if you’re sick, physical distancing, washing hands frequently and wearing face coverings in public when physical distancing is not possible.

For questions regarding COVID-19, call EIPH’s call center at (208) 522-0310 or toll free at (855) 533-3160 to speak with someone. The call center is open Mon. through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, questions can be submitted via email to COVIDQuestions@eiph.idaho.gov or on their Facebook page.

For more COVID-19 news, click here.

A copy of Bonneville County order of restriction can be found here.

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