IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Eastern Idaho Public Health issued a mask mandate for Bonneville County Tuesday evening, and the City Council met with EIPH on Wednesday to educate themselves on Bonneville County’s new risk level that caused the enactment of the order.
“[The order] makes it unnecessary for the city to take action,” Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper said. “State law allows health districts, counties, and cities each to operate within their own sphere to take action in the case of public health measures being warranted.”
Health officials say testing capacity is limited in Bonneville County and across the nation. The tests are sent to national facilities when local facilities do not have the capabilities to test within their facilities.
National facilities are backlogged by hundreds of tests right now due to the increased rate of infection in cities across the country. This exhaustion of available resources has created a delay that continues to stretch longer as the pandemic continues.
The delay may take up to two weeks to receive results. This makes it difficult to conduct early contact tracing. It also makes it difficult for healthcare professionals to administer treatment to COVID-19 positive patients.
“We want to provide care and education as appropriately and as quickly as possible, so that information can be utilized most effectively,” James Corbett, EIPH community health division administrator said. “We know that when we can do early contact tracing or early identification and education with people that have been exposed, as well as the case that is positive themselves, we see better outcomes and less transmission of the virus.”
Corbett recommends if you are exposed to the coronavirus, you should self-isolate for 14 days instead of relying on a positive test result.
Health officials say we could see a growing number of positive cases as the pandemic continues. Part of flattening the curve relies on early contact tracing. With the backlog of tests, it is possible to spread the virus while waiting for test results.
Health officials and community leaders say getting people to wear face masks will be the best way to keep the economy open and running.
“Mask wearing is a whole lot cheaper than shutting an economy down,” Mayor Casper said.
It will also allow schools to reopen in the fall according to each of their respective district reopening plans.
“We know that education is one of the most important things that government can do for its people,” Mayor Casper said. “We know that school starting in the fall or being able to operate as much as possible is a very significant goal and that is at stake if we allow ourselves to march toward the red zone.”
“How can we call ourselves the greatest country on Earth if we’re too selfish to look out for one another by simply wearing facial coverings?” Council Member Jim Freeman said. “It just flabbergasted me that there’s so much pushback to this. It seemed like such a simple thing to do.”
The present agencies discussed how the mandates will be enforced. Corbett says the hope is for citizens to police themselves.
“Eastern Idaho Public Health does not have enforcement ability for the different orders," Corbett said. "That’s relied on, as is most orders or laws, are done through law enforcement and other agencies.”
Idaho Falls Police Chief Bryce Johnson said police will issue class D misdemeanors. There will be no jail time and citations are highly unlikely. He said the police’s goal is to educate the public. They will act as messengers for public health to get people to follow the orders. Police will also enforce trespassing laws to assist businesses with customer compliance.
“We’re really encouraging people to voluntarily do this for the benefit of their neighbors, family members, and their communities,” Corbett said.
The mandates were issued based on metrics used in public health’s regional response plan. One of these metrics include the high number of active COVID-19 cases in Bonneville County. Corbett says we can spread the virus unknowingly before we begin to show symptoms.
“My mask protects you and your mask protects me. It’s not so much helping to prevent me from catching the disease, but it is helping me for maybe potentially stopping the spread to others.”
Corbett says the mask mandate is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to keep the economy running, keep schools open, and keep hospitals at capacity.
“Masks are important, not just for protecting for COVID but really helping the healthcare industry and the hospitals, maintain their capacity or their ability to treat, not just COVID patients, but all patients,” Corbett said.
Corbett says if cases continue to rise under the new mandates, the mask orders will be extended for another 14 days.