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Southwest District Health meeting on possible mask mandate canceled as ‘safety precaution’


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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — In what was supposed to be a meeting to discuss a possible mandate on masks in Canyon County, where the coronavirus is spreading quickly, the Southwest District Health’s board decided to cancel minutes after it was slated to begin.

During an online video call Thursday morning, a member of the health district’s board told those on the call — which totaled over 200 people — that the meeting would be canceled and rescheduled, though no date was expressly mentioned.

The board member said law enforcement had advised the board to cancel the meeting as a “safety precaution” after a number of protesters were trying to gain entry to the meeting in person. The meeting ended without officials saying when the next meeting would take place.

“>A Facebook livestream shows Ammon Bundy arguing with a man standing in a doorway to the health district building. The video later shows Bundy shoving the man to try to gain entry after SWDH board member Brian Elliot is allowed to walk inside.

Bundy repeatedly accuses health officials of trying to block the public from attending the meeting, despite the fact that the meeting was being broadcast via Zoom with over 200 people attending online before it was canceled.

Lt. Dave Wright of the Caldwell Police Department said officers were called to the health district’s building after they heard reports that people were trying to enter. Seven or eight officers were at the scene, and most were inside the building, Wright said. Once the protesters outside learned the meeting was canceled, they left, according to Wright. No arrests were made.

In a news release, SWDH said the meeting will be rescheduled, and the date has yet to be determined.

“Southwest District Health staff are safe and a crisis response team has been deployed to provide support to staff,” the news release said.

The health district — which is based in Caldwell and covers Canyon, Adams, Gem, Owyhee, Payette and Washington counties — was slated to discuss a possible mandate that would require masks to be worn in Canyon, similar to the actions taken by officials in Ada County and Boise.

Input and updates from a number of large health care systems was also scheduled to take place at the beginning of the meeting, according to its agenda.

Yesterday, Canyon County recorded more new coronavirus cases than any other county in Idaho. Canyon County has the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in Idaho, just behind Ada, and cases have been rising rapidly.

“The Board of Health recognizes the need to address the daily increase in COVID-19 case numbers as well as increases in COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths in the region,” SWDH said in the news release. “Today the board intended to hear from local hospitals, SWDH staff, and discuss public health strategies for slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

On Tuesday, the board for the Boise-based Central District Health — which covers Ada, Valley, Boise and Elmore counties — voted to mandate that masks/face coverings be worn throughout Ada County. The decision passed with a 5-1 vote.

Earlier this week, hospital officials from around the Treasure Valley called on public officials to implement mask mandates to help slow the coronavirus spread.

The call for action came shortly after a 45-year-old pediatric nurse practitioner died from complications of COVID-19. Samantha Hickey, a Caldwell resident, worked for St. Luke’s Health System prior to her death this week.