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'The Disease Does Not Give A Damn': Moscow, Idaho Mayor Looks Beyond Politics To Require Masks

Idaho Gov. Brad Little is encouraging, though not requiring, Idaho residents wear facial coverings and masks in public settings with the hashtag campaign #MaskUpIdaho CREDIT: Idaho Governor’s Office/Twitter


As coronavirus cases climb in Idaho, cities are acting on their own to slow the spread.

Along with Hailey, Moscow this week became one of the first in Idaho to require face coverings. Boise and McCall quickly followed suit.

Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert has some news for people who don’t like to wear masks.

“Well, none of us like to wear masks. I don’t particularly like to wear a mask,” Lambert says. “But I have for the past two months, and I will in the future because I think it’s an easy thing for us to do.”

After Latah County’s case count doubled, from eight to 16, in about a week, Lambert made mask-wearing mandatory for the college town that’s home to the University of Idaho.

On Monday, July 6, the Moscow City Council will consider extending the order through the beginning of August. They could also vote to rescind it.

Lambert says the state constitution and codes, as well as the city rule book, gives him the authority to require masks.

“So it wasn’t something that was just a whim of a notion from me as the mayor to get us going,” Lambert says. “We needed to be as smart about it and have a reason for it and have practical purposes.”

He says people who claim otherwise, and bring politics into a public health discussion, ignore the danger of the disease.

“Because guess what? The disease does not give a damn who we are,” he says. “Doesn’t care what gender or race or religion or democratic affiliation. Doesn’t care what your political points of view are. This is a disease. A pandemic.”

City supervisor Gary Riedner says he’s heard from a lot of residents, and a large majority support the masking order. Still, he hasn’t seen such a situation since he began at the city in 1992.

Let’s see you #MaskUpIdaho! Show your mask selfie and take the pledge to protect yourself and others from COVID-19!

— Brad Little (@GovernorLittle) June 25, 2020

“We have pandemic flu plans, but we’ve never had to activate them,” Riedner says. “We’ve never had anything where there was a directive that you had to act a certain way, wear a mask, quarantine. So this is pretty unprecedented.”

In the meantime, Lambert is urging Moscow residents to look beyond politics.

“We’ve got to do the right thing as a species, is how I see it. Doesn’t matter if you’re conservative or if you’re a liberal, if you’re rightwing, if you’re leftwing, if you’re Democrat, if you’re Republican. We’ve got to work through this stuff together,” he says. “All this angst we’ve got going on in our country, we need to get by it and work through this.”

From the beginning of the pandemic response in Idaho, Gov. Brad Little has emphasized social pressure to encourage safe behavior. Instead of requiring masks, the state began a social media campaign last week to encourage the behavior, using the hashtag #MaskUpIdaho.

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Copyright 2020 Northwest Public Broadcasting

Nick Deshais roams eastern Washington, North Idaho and northeastern Oregon as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network. Nick has called the region home since 2008. As a journalist, he has always sought to tell the stories of the area’s many different people, from the dryland farmers above the Odessa aquifer to the roadbuilders of Spokane. Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Nick worked as a print reporter in Washington, Oregon and Michigan. Most recently, he covered city hall and urban affairs at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. Nick was raised in rural Northern California, and is a graduate of Portland State University, where he earned degrees in history and math. When off the clock, Nick enjoys state-spanning bike tours, riding subways in foreign cities and walking slowly through museums. Nick’s reporting and writing has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and the Best of the West. He was a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan in 2017, and a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2011.