It sure sounds as if state or local officials will soon attempt to order Idahoans to wear masks in public. If my prediction is right, Idahoans who want to be considered free people should make it known they won’t stand for such edicts.
The mandatory mask idea has gained traction in certain parts of the country, as politicians parade their “proactiveness” for a media that have been practically howling for more draconian measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission to zero. Closest to us, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said, “until a vaccine or cure is developed, [wearing a mask] is going to be one of our best defenses.” Inslee announced a mask mandate three days ago, and residents who don’t follow the order could be charged with a misdemeanor.
Idaho isn’t immune to such thinking. At a recent Central District Health Department press conference announcing the re-closure of bars and nightclubs, a reporter asked Director Russ Duke when a mask mandate would be coming. Duke replied that such an action is in the realm of possibilities, but not yet.
In a follow up email to me, the director said, “Please understand that my response to a media question about masks was simply a statement that it was something to be considered. No determinations had been made, no order was contemplated. If the Board [of the health department] determines that it is in the interest of public health to fashion such an order, it will have to be reviewed as to whether there are legal underpinnings for such an order, and what sort of exceptions should exist.”
I don’t think there is a legal underpinning for a mask requirement, unless the department is willing to stretch its legal authority to a breaking point. And that the department is so willing to stretch its legal authority is precisely the problem. Idaho law says a public health district can “do all things required for the preservation and protection of the public health and preventative health.”
But there’s nothing specific dealing with face coverings. However, as I noted in a previous column, we are living in an era when individual politicians are making up laws as they go in the name of “public safety.” A mask mandate wouldn’t surprise me in the least, even lacking specific legal authority to impose one.
The first mask mandate could originate in Blaine County, where commissioners are in talks about such a move. The commission will meet on June 30 to discuss the idea, though it’s unlikely commissioners will impose an edict during or immediately following that meeting. Mayors in the county have also signaled their willingness to force masks upon residents, though all parties appear willing to grant certain exemptions.
Meanwhile, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean told a reporter, “I would do anything necessary to protect Boise. No matter how hard that is, I would do it. I’ve said that all along and I mean it.”
I would take her at her word. This is, after all, a mayor who sees nothing really wrong with one of her committees recommending taxpayer funding of abortions and sex education for pre-kindergartners. McLean was also the first elected official in the state to order businesses to close, out of fear of the possibility that COVID-19 might spread in the community.
Regional public health districts could quickly join Blaine County to impose mask mandates. District health agencies are controlled, in part, by elected county commissioners. Like mayors, county commissioners are supposed to be accountable to the people. County commissioners, as well as city council members, need to hear from you. They need to hear opposition to government-imposed mask mandates as un-American.
If a business wants to require patrons to wear masks, excellent. That is the business owners' decision to make. If you want to wear a mask, that is up to you. But mayors and other government officials are not your mom and dad. You get to decide what you need to do to protect yourself, not someone with a title and an office. Now is the time to ensure politicians understand the limits of their authority, and that you won't stand for anything else.