Story at a glance
- The vote came one day after the largest hospital in the area announced it was 99 percent full and may have to transfer patients to Seattle.
- Medical professionals testified before the board about how masks work to slow the spread of the virus and the dire COVID-19 situation in hospitals.
- Idaho is currently experiencing its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic began.
Health board members in Idaho’s third most populated county voted to repeal a local mask mandate despite pleas from medical experts and a worsening COVID-19 outbreak in the state, The Associated Press reports.
The Panhandle Health District board voted 4-3 to rescind the face mask mandate in Kootenai County on Thursday, even as health officials warned about overwhelmed hospitals and staff shortages. The mandate was put into effect in July but was never enforced by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office.
On Wednesday, Kootenai Health, a hospital in Coeur d’Alene, announced it was 99 percent full and may have to transfer patients to centers as far away as Seattle.
“We’re facing staff shortages, and we have a lot of physician fatigue. This has been going on for seven months — we’re tired,” Panhandle Health District epidemiologist Jeff Lee told board members ahead of the vote.
Lee introduced doctors who testified before the board about how masks work to slow the spread of the virus and the serious health threats COVID-19 poses to those who become infected.
But the board went on to drop the mask mandate anyway, with one board member saying he personally doesn’t care if residents wear masks.
“If they want to be dumb enough to walk around and expose themselves and others, that’s fine with me,” board member Walt Kirby said, according to AP. “Nobody’s wearing the damned mask anyway...I’m sitting back and watching them catch it and die. Hopefully I’ll live through it.”
Meanwhile, another board member denied the existence of COVID-19 altogether.
“Something’s making these people sick, and I’m pretty sure it’s not coronavirus, so the question that you should be asking is, ‘What’s making them sick?” he told medical professionals who testified, according to AP.
Health board member Glen Bailey acknowledged masks work in curbing the spread of the virus but introduced the motion to rescind the requirement and proposed to make it a recommendation instead.
“I agree we have a problem with this virus, but at the same time I object to the mandate the board passed because it restricts people's right of choice and ability to comply or not comply under penalty of law,” Bailey said, according to the Spokesman-Review.
The vote comes as Idaho is experiencing its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic began. The state reported nearly 1,000 new cases Thursday and has confirmed a total of more than 56,600 with at least 553 deaths.
Public health officials have emphasized for months the importance of face coverings in the fight against the coronavirus crisis, and most states and local governments have mandated masks be worn in public.
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