Panhandle Health District board lifts Kootenai Co. mask mandate despite drastic rise in COVID-19 cases

KOOTENAI CO., Idaho — The Panhandle Health District Board has lifted the mask mandate in Kootenai County.

During a meeting on Thursday, one board member who previously voted in favor of the mandate rescinded his vote. However, the board recommended members of the public continue to wear masks in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus.

The mandate was put into effect in July, but has not been enforced. Had it been, those found out of compliance could have faced a misdemeanor charge, a fine and possible jail time.

RELATED: Coeur d’Alene school board elevates risk level to moderate

READ: Coeur d’Alene students return to hybrid learning amid COVID-19 spike

Board member Walt Kirby, who voted in favor of the mandate this summer, rescinded his vote saying he has received many angry messages about it. He said he does not care if people wear a mask or not, but he will and will stay away from those who do not. In the meeting, Kirby said he didn’t want to be in the middle of the situation anymore, not wanting to make that decision for others.

The decision to lift the mandate comes as the North Idaho is grappling with drastic increases in case rates. The board’s decision comes hours after the Panhandle Health District moved Kootenai and Boundary Counties to the “red” risk category in a direct response to increasing test positivity rates and hospital capacity. Kootenai Health on Wednesday said it is nearing capacity and may be force to move patients out of state as a result.

RELATED: Kootenai, Boundary Counties moved to ‘red’ risk category as COVID cases rise

RELATED: Kootenai Health at 99 percent capacity, may have to transfer patients to hospitals in Seattle and Portland

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated four members rescinded their votes, when only one did. That was enough to reverse the vote.