The Idaho Panhandle health board has voted to rescind its rule requiring people wear masks in Kootenai County.
The board had approved an enforceable mask mandate on July 23. It was a time when the Panhandle was approaching the peak of a coronavirus surge. That move was unpopular, so unpopular that even though the Panhandle is enduring another surge, the health board voted to remove the mandate.
Glen Bailey was one of four board members to do so.
“My concern is that we are mandating something that people should have the freedom," he said.
The freedom to wear a mask or not. He says he thinks masks are effective and should be worn, but that people should have the choice.
The vote came a few minutes after doctors and administrators at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene had urged board members to keep the mask mandate in place.
Executive Vice President Jeremy Evans says the surge in Covid cases is putting significant stress on his hospital. He says 99% of its 200 beds devoted to medical and surgical cases were full on Tuesday. And, he says, the hospital is experiencing staff shortages as employees either battle their own health issues or stay at home to care for loved ones. Evans says the hospital has put out requests for traveling nurses to fill gaps and has been able to fill about half of the positions it needs.
After rescinding the mandate, the board voted to reaffirm a position statement it approved in early July. It urged people to take the steps needed to protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus. But there’s no mask requirement.