The Post Falls City Council today [Monday] said no to a three-month measure that would mandate its residents wear masks in public places.
The proposal comes at a time when the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus continues to climb in north Idaho.
It’s also a time when the number of people hospitalized for Covid is at a dangerously-high level, says Jon Ness, CEO of Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene.
“Kootenai Health has been hovering near capacity for medical and surgical patients for several weeks. We have already been unable to accept dozens of patients we typically care for from other, smaller communities in north Idaho. Without preventative action, it is only a matter of time before this starts to significantly impact care for local residents.”
Another Kootenai Health administrator, Dr. Jeremy Evans, told the council the hospital has had 250 employees test positive for Covid; 87 are still being monitored. In fewer than 5% of those cases, he says, was the virus transmitted from patient to health care worker. He says that shows the hospital’s health protocols are working.
That’s putting a severe strain on the hospital’s staff. Evans says Kootenai Health has nearly 400 open positions and is unable to find many skilled nurses from the outside who are trained to care for people with coronavirus.
Several council members, including Kerri Thoreson said they’re concerned about the hospital’s situation, but aren’t convinced a mask requirement is the answer.
“Mandating that the citizens of Post Falls wear a mask at all times in public places will not significantly change behavior," Thoreson said. "What it will do, for sure, is divide and polarize this community at a time when we need to continue to look out for each other. What it will do is add a burden to the Post Falls police officers who will be tasked with enforcing it.”
Mayor Ron Jacobson supported the proposal because of worries about how Idaho’s governor will react if the surge continues.
“I think we run a real risk of being rolled back into stage 2, which is going to have a significant financial impact on our businesses. It’s going to hurt the economy as a whole and I think it’s going to pose problems for the hospital," Jacobson said.
The council agreed to consider a weaker measure at its meeting next week. That would require mask wearing at city-owned facilities.
The city council in Post Falls’ neighbor, Coeur d’Alene, recently voted to adopt a mask mandate, while the Panhandle Health District board chose to remove a previous mask requirement.