Maggie Mann addresses covid cases

Southeastern Idaho Public Health Director Maggie Mann speaks last month to members of the media and public regarding the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the region.

BLACKFOOT – For the time being, Southeastern Idaho Public Health (SIPH) will not be mandating the use of face masks in public in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

SIPH held a special meeting on Thursday with the county representatives from all eight of the respective counties in the the district. During the meeting, each of the counties’ commissioners who sit on the board were provided the opportunity to give input going forward, including revising their meeting schedules as well as input on the plan SIPH Director Maggie Mann presented to them.

Prior to introducing the plan, Mann made it a point to acknowledge where each of the counties are in relation to the rest of the state in number of cases. She explained each of the statistics are recorded, why they chose to not include every statistic (time allocation being the factor), and how often they update the numbers.

The numbers are updated Monday through Friday. They update the numbers acquired from the weekend on Monday, which creates larger reports than most days. She also explained that they have made changes to the reporting numbers, more specifically, what data they are sharing to be more transparent. After some discussion about this, the meeting moved on to the safety plan.

The plan included different tiers based on severity of COVID-19 outbreaks in each of the respective counties, cities, and towns.

The goal of the plan was to decide what the requirements would be depending on the number of consecutive cases in each of the counties and if that county exceeds 10 per 10,000 of population, the level of where the county is on the risk system changes accordingly. Each of the tiers are lined out based on certain criteria including hospitalizations, intensive care unit beds, numbers of active cases, and other criteria.

Following the introduction of the safety plan, the discussion changed to one term, “mandate.” The focus of the commissioners in attendance boiled down to whether they felt comfortable mandating masks in public places. It was this one thing that encouraged the decision to not require masks in the SIPH district.

One commissioner made the comment regarding the situation, “They are infringing on other peoples’ rights by claiming they have freedom to not wear a mask,” when asked about how the public would take it. Bear Lake Commissioner Vaughn Rassmussen made it a point to state that he could not in good conscience support a mandate because of not having any way to enforce it.

That statement created another point of focus; how would they enforce it? It became clear that none of the commissioners felt that enforcement was a real capability and they were dreading the amount of phone calls that would be fielded as well as the amount of neighbor watching that would take place. The expectation of reporting neighbors because of a mask mandate created concern for most of those in attendance.

Bingham County Commissioner Whitney Manwaring agreed with the others, expressing that they would not have any way to enforce it. He went on to suggest that they change the verbiage to state “Strongly recommend the wearing of masks” and that they should “educate the public about masks.” The other commissioners moved and voted on doing so, approving a change of the verbiage and leaving the document as fluid, meaning that they reserve the right to make changes as they see fit. They will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed.

The line was drawn in the sand with a 5-3 vote that masks will not be mandated by the public health department at this time.

SIPH reported 12 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday afternoon, with four in Bingham County, five in Bannock County, two in Bear Lake County, and 1 in Power County, bringing the total to 475 confirmed cases in southeastern Idaho. Of the 527 total confirmed and probable cases, 378 have recovered from COVID-19.