The leaders of the city of Idaho Falls and other cities in eastern Idaho should do the right thing. For the sake of public health, economic well-being and the education of Idaho Falls’ children, it is time to implement a mandatory public masking order, as the cities of Driggs and Victor have done.
In an environment with COVID-19 on the loose, it is foolish to see masks as a restriction on freedom and ordinary life. They are one of the conditions for the possibility of freedom and ordinary life.
There is no clearer example of this than in Asia, where outbreaks of other coronaviruses like SARS had already established a culture of mask-wearing in response to respiratory illness. Many Asian countries, after experiencing explosive outbreaks very similar to that in the U.S., were able to suppress infections and proceed with fairly ordinary life with masks. They have not experienced a second surge in cases like in the U.S.
Recommending the use of masks, as some on the Idaho Falls City Council have discussed, should not be interpreted as action. Those recommendations have been universal everywhere for weeks, and few are following them. Issuing a recommendation is sitting on one’s hands in the face of a looming crisis.
Eastern Idaho has so far been incredibly lucky. We should not count on this luck as some immutable fact of nature. Anyone who watched what happened to Blaine County, which for a time had the highest number of per-capita COVID infections in the nation, should know that it can happen here too.
That’s why it’s best to take preventative measures early. Idaho went into lockdown when there were still relatively few infections, and that kept the state from seeing the level of infection suffered by some of our neighbors, like Oregon and Washington. Acting after the surge has been detected means many more infections because of the significant delays between when spread occurs and when it is detected. If eastern Idaho acts quickly, it could avoid what has happened in Ada County, which has had to close more businesses to stem the spread of the virus.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Chip Schwarze warned the council of what will happen if Idaho Falls requires another lockdown.
“We’ve got a lot of businesses that have been struggling and hurt really bad. ... Many of them are moments away from failing and never opening the doors again,” he said.
Masks are therefore a means of avoiding the sort of economic devastation that was brought on by the initial stay-home order, as well as the terrible impacts COVID can have on those who are infected, including death and possible lifelong damage to their lungs, kidneys and brains.
This is why the city of Idaho Falls should act to implement this mandate quickly. Perhaps, if we take this action, we can hope that the simple, easy measure of masking will slow the spread of the virus so that more draconian measures aren’t necessary.
Or perhaps we will do nothing. Perhaps we will simply plug our ears and cover our eyes until enough of our vulnerable neighbors die to restore our sense of reality. Until masking is no longer a sufficient measure, and another lockdown is necessary, a crushing blow for businesses on the brink. Until schools again need to close, and our children lose out on their educations. Make no mistake: This is the likely price of failure.
Elected officials are responsive to public outreach and public comment. There are indications from polling and in other places that there is more, but quieter, support for mandatory masking than there is opposition. The mayor and members of the Idaho Falls City Council need to hear from those quiet supporters.