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Pocatello brings back mask mandate at all city facilities


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POCATELLO — A mask mandate has been reimplemented inside of all Pocatello city buildings beginning Thursday.

Mayor Brian Blad announced at a Wednesday afternoon news conference that masks will be required inside of all city facilities and vehicles, including the Pocatello Regional Transit buses and the Pocatello Regional Airport.

The announcement comes as vaccination rates slow and cases of the COVID-19 climb, leading to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention designation of Bannock County as a “county of substantial community transmission,” according to Blad.

“I’ve made this decision in light of the new guidance from the CDC, and in consultation with our local experts and Southeast Idaho Public Health,” the mayor said.

The current vaccination in Bannock County, Blad said, sits at 49%. That number is slightly higher than that of the Southeastern Idaho Public Health District, which Director Maggie Mann said now rests at 44%.

While the preferred vaccination rate for herd immunity is 90%, Mann said, the health district is targeting a more modest 75%.

Until vaccination rates rise, Mann supports the mask mandate.

“I just want to express my appreciation for Mayor Blad for his leadership and his willingness to take this step,” she said. “I recognize that this is probably not the most popular decision, but it’s one that we needed to protect our community.”

Vaccination rates have plateaued, while positive tests have soared — up nearly 400% since the beginning of July, Blad said.

Portneuf Medical Center is treating 20 inpatients for COVID.

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“The COVID-19 vaccines are clearly preventing COVID-19 infections, and in the few instances of breakthrough infection, they are preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death among those who are vaccinated,” Portneuf Medical Center CEO Jordan Herget said in a news release. “This has become a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated.’ Our current COVID-19 inpatients are more than 90 percent unvaccinated people. We continue to strongly encourage everyone in our community to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and work to dispel misinformation about the vaccines that threaten the lives of those who may be persuaded by these false claims.”

Mann said those vaccinated who have tested positive for the Delta variant of the virus have experienced less serious symptoms.

“We have proven, safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19,” Mann said. “We strongly encourage people to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves, their families and our communities.”

The mask mandate, for now, pertains only to city facilities and only when inside of those facilities. But, Blad said, if virus cases continue to rise, the City Council will have no choice but to consider implementing a city-wide ordinance.

“If you want masks to come off, get vaccinated,” he said. “If you want the pandemic to be over, get vaccinated. If you want life to get back to normal, get vaccinated.”