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Pocatello City Council votes for continuation of mask mandate

Pocatello

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POCATELLO — The Pocatello City Council voted to uphold a mask mandate during its meeting Thursday night.

“We do listen to all the voices, and all the comments that people make and we take them seriously,” councilwoman Linda Leeuwrik said. “But we have to weigh all of those and do the best we can, or what we believe is the best for the city.”

Councilwoman Claudia Ortega expanded on her colleague’s comments, adding that she realizes half of the city’s residents will be upset about the decision no matter which way she and her fellow council members vote.

After discussion, with four dissenting votes, including those from both Leeuwrik and Ortega, the council voted against repealing the mask ordinance. It will be upheld until, at the earliest, the council’s first meeting next month on Feb. 4.

Rick Cheatum, one of the two council members who voted to repeal the ordinance, supports mask usage but added that in his experience, many residents choose to wear a mask, making the ordinance unnecessary. He added that the threat of a winter spread has come and gone.

“There is a definite decline,” councilman Roger Bray said prior to registering his vote in support of mask mandate continuation. “That decline has started to indicate a trend upwards again. We’re up about 66% up from our low of just a few days ago, in terms of infections.”

Bray went on to call the mandate a “critical” “ingredient” to the city’s ability to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cheatum was joined by Heidi Adamson in voting to discontinue the city’s mask mandate. Bray, Leeuwrik and Ortega were joined by Chris Stevens in voting to against repeal of the ordinanc.

“When our regional medical center sends a request that we continue this mandate for another 30 days, I’m going to concede to the opinion and the requests of the people who are providing the medical care in our region,” Ortega said.

Council woman Stevens concurred, adding that her normal process when making decisions outside of her area of expertise is to take the advice of the experts.

“I believe in masks,” Cheatum said. “I wear one. I carry one. If I leave the house, I’m wearing one, unless I’m driving my car. … I believe in masks, I don’t believe in city government mandating what people should be doing.”

Leeuwrik offered a rebuttal, saying she clarified the city’s right to pass this type of ordinance with the city attorney last summer.

“He gave me the sections of Idaho code where it does give city councils the authority to do this,” she said. “Idaho code makes it very clear that in the case of some kind of infectious disease or pandemic, that it is local government’s responsibility (to pass this ordinance).”

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