Coeur d’Alene City Council approves mask mandate

COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho — The Coeur d’Alene City Council voted 4-2 Monday to implement a mask mandate.

The mandate will be in effect for 90 days, after which point Panhandle Health District and Kootenai Health will meet again with the City Council to provide an update on COVID-19 transmission. Children under 10 are exempt, as well as people with a medical exception. Violation of this order would be $100 ticket, but an educative approach will be taken first. No arrests will be made.

Kootenai Health CEO Jon Ness spoke to the City Council, saying that the Idaho Panhandle’s COVID-19 status has changed for the worse, and that 281 physicians in North Idaho have signed off in support of the mandate.

Additionally, Idaho Governor Brad Little rolled back the state to Stage 3 of their reopening plan an hour into the meeting.

RELATED: Gov. Little moves Idaho back to Stage 3 of reopening plan as cases, hospitalization rates rise

Ness said there has been an increase in COVID-19 patients, an increase in positive test results, a severe shortage in medical surgical bed capacity, staff shortages and physician fatigue — additionally, there is still no vaccine, schools have reopened and flu season is imminent.

Ness also noted that capacity is so low, at one point last week only one bed was available.

Since the pandemic hit North Idaho, Kootenai Health has had 316 patients with COVID-19, 77 of whom required critical care. Currently, 35 people are in the hospital and 11 in critical care — which includes patients of all ages.

Protesters began chanting outside of the Coeur d’Alene Public Library partway through the meeting, yelling “no more masks, we will not comply.”

Masks will also be required in restaurants, stores and more if six feet of distance can’t be maintained. You’ll also be required to wear them in outdoor places if social distancing isn’t possible.

One spokesperson for Kootenai Health explained that the county saw a huge surge in COVID-19 cases in August, and that they are poised to face another in the coming weeks as flu season approaches. Additionally, the positivity rate of COVID testing has also jumped — in the last seven days, the rate of positive tests was 15.5-percent.

“We have not had a pandemic to this degree since 1918,” said Kootenai Health chief physician executive Karen Cabell. “[With a COVID-19 diagnosis], on average I can infect two-and-a-half other people. Influenza was less than two.”

Cabell pointed out that elective surgeries, including open heart and abdominal surgeries, had to be postponed due to low bed capacity.

Council member Dan Gookin pressed Kootenai Health on the efficacy of wearing masks, saying that there has been no mention of using them before March 2020. Cabell explained that masks have been used for a long time, especially in healthcare settings, and that there is no scientific evidence that masks lower oxygen intake.

“I think there is going to be mass civil disobedience,” Gookin said. “It’s going to put our cops in a really awkward situation.”

Another spokesperson said that masks prevent the spread of droplets — the coronavirus is not alive, and has to “hitch a ride” on droplets to spread to other people. Gookin asked if COVID-19 can spread through the eyes, and Kootenai Health’s epidemiologist said it can spread through any mucus membranes, including the mouth, nose and eyes.

“So why don’t we have everyone wear goggles?” Gookin asked, and the epidemiologist replied, “We’re having a hard enough time getting them to wear masks.”

“These are the people that open up your abdomen,” said Cabell, “and you’re not going to trust them when they tell you to wear masks?”

Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White asked the council if they support issuing citations for people not wearing masks, and Mayor Steve Widmyer answered that they hope to enforce through education.

“It’s not our intention to arrest anyone,” said Widmyer, “we won’t arrest anyone for not wearing a mask.”

Other councilmembers expressed the need for a mandate.

“The idea of doing nothing is just not acceptable to me,” said Christie Wood, a Coeur d’Alene councilwoman. “I want to do everything we can to slow the spread.”

Councilwoman Amy Evans echoed a similar message.

“We are at dangerously high levels of transmission in our community,” she explained. “We’re near flu season. It’s cold out. More people will be indoors and social distancing is more difficult.”

The mandate will take effect at midnight Tuesday. It’ll last for 90 days, but the City Council has options to change it in that timeframe.