More than a week into masks being mandatory in Bonneville County, two themes are emerging.
In interviews with the Post Register on Friday, law enforcement, who have said they generally wouldn’t enforce the mandate, say reports of violation are low. Some businesses and leaders say the same about mask use.
Chip Schwarze, CEO of the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce, said “it depends on where you’re at,” specifically “the attitude of the business owner.” Most are wearing masks, though, he said.
“I think the businesses are mostly complaint,” he said. When it comes to customers, Schwarze said he’s “seeing mixed bags.”
“I’m sitting here in the Eastern Idaho Visitor Center right now. I would probably say 60% of the people are wearing masks,” he said. On Friday morning, when Schwarze was went to Walmart, which is requiring that customers wear masks, he said “I didn’t see anybody walk to the door without a mask.”
Eastern Idaho is experiencing a rapid spike in COVID-19. Throughout July, active case rates and hospitalizations in the region have quadrupled. Teton and Bonneville had particularly high cases, prompting the health district’s board of county representatives to mandate masks there.
Both mandates are up for review by the health board Thursday. Testing concerns linger over Teton’s now-low case rate, but Bonneville’s case rate remains high. Experts say widespread mask use and other safety measures are crucial to slow the spread of the coronavirus.On July 22, one day after Bonneville’s mask mandate was issued, representatives for Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and Idaho Falls Police Department said they would refrain from enforcing the mandate, which is a misdemeanor offense that could carry up to $300 in fines, 6 months in jail, or both.
Enforcement could happen in “egregious” scenarios, they said, but law enforcement didn’t define that. So far, they said they haven’t seen such a scenario.
“We’ve had a handful of calls. ... Most of them have been questions people (have) trying to clarify what the order is and if they can go do this activity or that activity,” said police spokeswoman Jessica Clements.
Sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Bryan Lovell said the office, which shares a dispatch center with IFPD, is seeing mostly the same: Deputies aren’t responding to the few reports of mask violations. He said it’s “maybe only been 10 calls” recently.
“We haven’t actually had to send officers out to do ... that kind of education,” Lovell said. He counted two complaints of mask violations in businesses, one in a gym and one in a scrapyard. Officers didn’t respond to either, Lovell said; he declined to name the businesses.
Law enforcement said they could assist businesses with kicking out people who don’t wear masks by utilizing state trespass laws. Clements and Lovell said that hasn’t happened.
In late April, when the state’s stay-home order barred salons from opening, Lyle Amado Barbershop in Ammon was among some businesses that opened, defying the legal mandate. Tyler Price, who owns the barbershop, said his employees wear masks, but he isn’t making customers mask up.
While some of his customers wear masks, he said “the majority don’t.” He leaves the decision to them.
“I still believe it should be a personal choice to wear a mask and not a government requirement, even though we choose to wear masks in our shop,” he said. ”I still think that makes really good business sense. I still think that people have to make a decision for themselves. It becomes a real slippery slope when you’re telling people how to live their life.”
Schwarze said law enforcement saying they won’t enforce the mask mandate puts businesses in a “strange position.”
If businesses enforce it themselves, he said, they might face backlash from vocal opponents of masks. “What’s a business to do?” Schwarze asked. “Tell their customers that we’re done? You can’t come in?”
After roiling economic setbacks from a virus that led many states to temporarily shut down social interactions, Schwarze said having businesses enforce legal mask mandates is a tough ask.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.