COVID-19 mask

BLACKFOOT – Southeastern Idaho Public Health has 28 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 that were reported Monday with 11 in Bingham County. There were 16 new cases in Bannock County and one in Bear Lake County.

This brings the total to 329 confirmed cases in southeastern Idaho. Of the 372 total confirmed and probable cases, 247 have recovered from COVID-19.

Mandatory masks have become a hot-button discussion topic across the state with the question of mandatory masks in Blackfoot being discussed in last week’s city council meeting. Mayor Carroll presented to the council an important question — he asked how the council felt about mandating masks in public areas in Blackfoot.

Carroll acknowledged that Blackfoot’s neighbors to the north and south had similar topics on their city council agendas, presenting their concerns regarding a continued increase in positive coronavirus cases, especially in the eastern half of the state.

Bingham, Bannock, and Bonneville counties have seen continued increases of community spread of the virus, leading local policy makers to the conclusion that mandating masks may be the next step to keep Idaho open while trying to mitigate the constant rise of cases over the last 20 days.

Councilwoman Jan Simpson was the first member of the council to respond. Simpson, a longtime healthcare worker, stated that she feels masks are necessary, and that although they can be uncomfortable, people become accustomed to them rather quickly. Simpson made it a point to let Carroll know that she supports the idea.

Councilman Layne “Skip” Gardner falls in line with Simpson. Gardner, a retired teacher from Blackfoot High School, has worked around many students that came to school sick. Although not indicating that he draws on this part of his past, he did affirm that he is in line with the same mindset of Simpson, and would vote in favor of mandatory masks if they were put on the next council agenda.

In opposition of the idea, Councilman Bart Brown recognized that masks can be helpful in the spread of coronavirus. However, Brown is of the opinion that masks should be a choice and people should have the choice whether to wear one.

Councilman Chris Jensen was on the same side as Brown. He currently is required to wear a mask at his day job, but feels that mandating masks in the city would be an infringement on people’s personal freedoms.

Going by the discussion, the council would be split 2-2, meaning that Carroll would have to vote to split the deadlock. Carroll made it a point to alert the members of the council that he would in fact be adding the mandatory masks to the next council meeting’s agenda.

Southeastern Idaho Public Health Director Maggie Mann continues to encourage local community members to support the use of masks and explained the misconceptions people believe that the Centers for Disease Control stated that masks will not make a difference. Mann expressed that masks make a difference when worn correctly and paired with social distancing. She went on to display proper ways to handle, adjust, and safely wear a mask, all while trying to eliminate the change in comfort.

At this point, Mann has not forced the issue about masks, but rather follows the same approach that Gov. Brad Little has utilized. He continues to be proactive regarding the necessity of masks, but wants people to make the conscientious decision to wear one when in public.

One of the most common complaints put forth at this point from those opposed to masks has been regarding being forced to wear one in their cars. At this point, this is not the case, nor would it be the requirement based on the definition of public space. More in line with what the reasoning for mandatory masks would be is in places like the grocery store. These social areas become bottlenecks for social interaction and have community spread opportunities — multiple surfaces touched, shopping carts, and contaminants.