PHD Board approves North Idaho mask mandate

The divide over a mask mandate decided today was reflected on the faces of Panhandle Health District board members in physical attendance at today’s meeting.

By a vote of four yes, two no and with one abstention, the Panhandle Health District Board this afternoon enacted a mandate requiring every person in North Idaho to wear a face covering that completely covers the person’s nose and mouth when in a public place and physical distancing of six feet from others cannot be maintained so as to slow the spread of COVID-19.

While many on the board attended remotely, those who were in attendance reflected the vote; some wearing masks, some not.

Member Walt Kirby, who represents Boundary County, said he personally favored approval, saying he wears a mask and trusts in their value at slowing the spread of COVID, but said he was lambasted when he voted in July to approve a mask mandate for Kootenai County, receiving threats, being harassed and getting inundated with phone calls, emails and on social media.

When he voted to rescind the order last month, saying “Nobody’s wearing the damned masks anyway. All they are is just thumbing their noses at us, anyway,” he said, he was again caught in an avalanche of indignant response, this time with global attention, to include national media.

“I think we should be wearing masks,” he said today. “I wear a mask. But I will not vote.”

The motion reinstates the original Kootenai County mandate, expanded to cover the entire Panhandle Health District, for 60 days, with review set for the board’s January meeting. The Kootenai County mandate can be read here.

As a board order, the mandate carries the force of law, with violations constituting a misdemeanor. Under Idaho Code, those found guilty of a misdemeanor can face up to six months in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $1,000.