COVID-19 artwork

Custer County has been listed in the moderate risk category for coronavirus since Sept. 3, which includes a mandate that people wear face coverings.

The mandate is in effect in schools in the county, and Challis Superintendent Lani Rembelski said face coverings were required when students and staffers in Stanley and Challis returned to classrooms Sept. 8 from a four-day Labor Day break.

Mackay students are continuing with a split of three days of classroom learning each week and one day of remote learning, which was implemented Aug. 26 after students and staffers in that district contracted COVID-19. That approach is outlined in the district's reopening plan. The district remains in the yellow phase of its reopening plan. 

In the Challis district, with the county’s adjustment by Eastern Idaho Public Health District officials, the school district moved to the yellow phase of its reopening plan. Students, faculty and staffers at schools in Stanley and Challis are required to wear face coverings on campus. Rembelski said schools will keep a supply of face coverings for emergencies, but students are expected to pack their own.

“We may have some resistance, but we’re asking people to wear them for now so we can get back in the green later,” Rembelski said, referring to the least restrictive phase of the reopening plan. Students and staff in Stanley wore face coverings when school started, and Rembelski said they adapted to them quickly.

Access to the Challis and Stanley campuses is restricted from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. while the district is in the yellow phase. Students cannot leave campus until the end of the day unless advance arrangements are made. If parents need to pick up their children during the day, they must call the office first and pick them up outside.

As for athletics, the Challis fall sports plan states events can take place during the yellow phase. But only immediate family members of athletes may attend and those family members must wear face coverings. Mackay has a similar policy, but restricts total attendance to 50 spectators.

Rembelski said the best way for the district to return to the lower phase is for parents to take the lead. Challis students are OK with wearing face coverings for the most part, Rembelski said, but that remains dependent on their parents’ attitudes. Rembelski is hopeful that everyone buckles down and follows the rules so the county can drop back to the minimal risk category.

Custer County was moved to the higher level by the Eastern Idaho Public Health District board because the county exceeded the health district’s established threshold of 15 active virus cases per 10,000 residents for three consecutive days just before Sept. 3. At the end of the day last Thursday, Custer was listed as having 41 cases, including 14 active cases.

The county will remain in the moderate risk category until at least Sept. 17, because the health district order is in effect for 14 days. The health district board must decide to lift the restrictions, it’s not automatic after two weeks. And the mandates are lifted only if the county has been below the moderate risk threshold for the last week.

When counties reach the moderate risk level, the health board mandates masks and restricts events. The order in effect in Custer County says everyone must wear masks in public when they can’t physically 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. People who violate the mandate face up to $300 in fines and six months in jail.

Custer County Commissioner Wayne Butts, who is a member of the health district board, abstained from the vote during the health district board meeting. He did not say why.

“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.”

The full order can be viewed at https://eiph.idaho.gov/Home/Hot%20Topics/Coronavirus/Orders/EIPH%20Order%20of%20Restriction_Custer_Final_9-03-20.pdf.

Lemhi County was under a similar order for much of August, but it was moved back to the minimal risk category on Aug. 31 after the number of active virus cases dropped below the threshold.