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Idaho Falls Mayor, City Council wait to act on mask mandate


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IDAHO FALLS — The Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper and the City Council will wait to receive guidance from Eastern Idaho Public Health before moving forward on a citywide mask plan.

The topic was discussed for over an hour during a City Council meeting Thursday night. Around 75 people gathered outside City Hall with signs and shirts protesting potential mandates that would require members of the public to wear masks. Because of social distancing recommendations, only 20 people at a time were allowed in the council chambers with eight others sitting in an overflow location.

Protestors against a potential mask policy gather outside Idaho Falls City Hall Thursday night. | Courtesy Jason Anderson

Casper and council members agreed more information is needed from the CDC, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and local health districts before introducing a mask ordinance or resolution.

“I’m not in support of a masking order at this time. I would like to see what the metrics and key indicators look like and hear from the public health board in the near future,” Council President Michelle Ziel-Dingman said.

Idaho Falls is the latest city to contemplate a mask policy as COVID-19 cases continue to rise statewide. While numbers are going up, the death rate in Idaho has remain low, as have hospitalizations in eastern Idaho.

Councilman Tom Hally said because data is changing daily, a concrete law could become problematic and there may be a more effective way to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“I think a lot of people would wear a mask if there was more encouragement to do so rather than say absolutely under a mandate,” Hally said. “To encourage people to wear masks is where I’m at right now.”

Casper and some councilmembers debated how a mask policy would be enforced. During the statewide “stay-home” order, Idaho Falls Police did not issue citations for violators.

“A blanket for the entire community, I think, is impossible and I’m not in favor of ordinances that we’re not intending to enforce,” Councilman Jim Francis said.

Casper added that a mask mandate could overwhelm the police department.

“Our police department is under a lot of stress, distress, scrutiny and, to be honest, we never have enough officers to answer calls,” Casper said. “The last thing I want to do is tell police offices they should not enforce the law when there’s danger or property at stake or domestic violence just because they want to go tag somebody who’s not wearing a mask. It doesn’t seem like the smart thing at all.”

Jason Anderson, an Idaho Falls resident, attended the meeting and told that while the city may have a legal right to pass a mask ordinance, leaders should not.

“I think the issue here is government overreach. There’s a big difference between the idea we can choose to wear a mask if we think it helps versus we have to wear a mask because the government makes us,” Anderson said.

Councilman Jim Freeman expressed disappointment that the mask issue has become politically controversial nationwide and in Idaho Falls.

“We’re just trying to do the best we can here to protect people’s health and I’m sorry there is such a distrust in government at this time,” Freeman said.

Councilwoman Shelly Smede said whether a policy is passed or not, she hopes those in Idaho Falls will respect the thoughts of others.

“Growing up in Idaho, a lot of us have different political opinions but I was taught to respect every other Idahoan and I will continue to do it,” Smede said. “I hope however this moves forward, we will do that.”

So far, Driggs and Victor are the only two cities in eastern Idaho to institute mask policies but Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad and the city council discussed the issue Thursday afternoon. Leaders decided to wait before moving forward with an official plan.

Idaho Falls Councilman John Radford said he was hoping for some resolution Thursday.

“I’ll walk out of this meeting disappointed that we haven’t made a mandate,” Radford said. “I want the data and public health department involved but in the end, I will make a decision that’s best for the community and not just for me.”

Casper and city council will meet again July 22 to discuss the issue and decide on a plan moving forward.

“From the bottom of my heart, my commitment to this community is to do the right thing. Defining what the right thing is is really hard,” Casper said. “I have no desire to cram my will down anybody’s throat. Not ever. That’s not what you do when you serve a community. Somehow that’s gotten lost. We are individuals who are trying to do make good decisions for our community.”