EIPH 09.03

Eastern Idaho Public Health’s Board of Health approved a mask mandate for Custer County on Sept. 3.

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include information about school re-opening in Mackay.

Custer County is the latest in eastern Idaho where face masks are mandatory to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Eastern Idaho Public Health’s board of county representatives voted unanimously Thursday morning to adopt a legal health order for Custer County, which is home to roughly 4,300 people. The order is effective immediately.

Custer County Commissioner Wayne Butts was the only board member who abstained from the vote, meaning he chose not to approve or deny the public health order for the county he represents. He did not say why he abstained.

“It just seems like they don’t really care. I think the mentality is herd immunity is what it’s going to take, just like they do with the livestock,” Butts said before the vote.

“I think the ones in our community that are wearing masks are the ones that are gonna wear masks. I don’t think that even with an order, you’re gonna get any new ones wearing masks, which could be unfortunate. We all want to see our schools stay open but it seems we don’t want to practice safe distancing and things that allow us to do that.”

Two weeks ago, Mackay schools opened for a full four-day week. The next week, district officials announced it would go all online until Sept. 8. When schools re-open then, students will attend in-person classes three days a week, district Superintendent Susan Buescher told the Post Register after the meeting.

That’s because the school district’s re-opening plan uses a tiered re-opening plan that is tied to four risk levels that the regional health board outlines, Buescher said.

When counties reach so-called moderate-risk level, the health board mandates masks and restricts events. Those mandates apply to schools. After the mandates are in place for two weeks, the board’s plan says it can lift the mandates so long as the county has been below the moderate-risk threshold for the last week.

Buescher said the district would return to holding in-person classes four-days a week when Custer County returns to minimal-risk level.

People who violate the mandate can be charged with a misdemeanor, which carries up to $300 in fines, six months in jail or both. The order says all people must wear masks in public when they can’t social distance from people they don’t live with.

The health order also restricts attendance at public events. Events must allow 28 square feet for every attendee, the order says.

Custer County’s mandate follows other mandates issued by the regional health board in counties where the coronavirus is spreading rampantly.

Daily new coronavirus cases have slowed slightly in eastern Idaho. So have hospitalizations. But the rate of new cases remains higher than seen before the summer spike. Most deaths during the pandemic have come in the past few weeks.

Currently, Custer and three other counties — Bonneville, Jefferson and Teton — have mandates by the board. Last week, the health board voted to lift mandates in three rural counties: Clark, Lemhi and Fremont. In total, seven of eight counties under Eastern Idaho Public Health have seen mask mandates by the health board.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.