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Cities require face coverings as virus cases surge in Idaho

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Two Idaho cities are making face coverings mandatory as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases keeps surging.

The requirement in Moscow starts Thursday and is set to last seven days. In Hailey, the mandate started Wednesday and will stay in place until city officials repeal it. Both orders exempt children, people eating in restaurants or those who are social distancing outdoors.

Violating the order in Moscow could lead to a misdemeanor charge, while violators in Hailey would be subject to a $100 fine.

Gary Riedner, Moscow city supervisor, said Mayor Bill Lambert issued the order after consulting with health officials because wearing face coverings isn't prevalent.

"To reduce the risk of infection, the mayor wants to make sure everybody is wearing face masks when they can't socially distance," Riedner said.

Idaho had 365 new confirmed infections Tuesday, for a total of 6,117 cases and 92 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. And the 14-day trend for the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 jumped from 3.4% to 11.4%, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The positivity rate is a measure of how widespread the disease is in the community, and Idaho guidelines say that number needs to be under 5% to lift restrictions.

Rob Cavagnol, executive medical director at St. Luke's Health System, said he expects the positive test rate to keep increasing.

"If people don't want to see businesses shut down, the most effective thing they can do is wear a mask and socially distance," he said, noting he's often seen few people wearing masks in grocery stores.

"I'm a general surgeon, and I've done operations lasting eight, 10 hours," he said. "I don't remove my mask the whole time, and there are no negative effects from that. So someone can wear it 30 minutes in the grocery store."

Republican Gov. Brad Little has encouraged face coverings and wears one himself in gatherings but has declined to make them mandatory. He said the diverse nature of the state, with some people working alone outdoors, doesn't make such an order sensible.

Little's reopening strategy has stalled with the uptick in cases, and heavily populated Ada County has reverted to greater restrictions. It shut down bars, where the initial surge of infections began after customers ignored social distancing and didn't wear face coverings.

In a major shift in policy, Little said last week that local officials would be allowed to determine restrictions with his oversight, citing concerns that some areas might have overly permissive rules that would lead to more infections.

The governor said the change was justified due to increased knowledge of the virus and the state's greater ability to respond. A handful of Idaho's 44 counties have no confirmed cases.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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Associated Press

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