Pocatello City Council passes mask ordinance that includes fines if you don’t wear one

Posted at 8:16 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 09:16:55-05

POCATELLO, Idaho — This article was originally published by Brittni Johnson in East Idaho news.

Masks will soon be mandatory in Pocatello, and if you don’t wear one, you could be fined.

At a City Council meeting Thursday, councilmembers voted to approve a public health emergency ordinance that requires masks to be worn in all public places or when six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.

Under the ordinance, “Every person shall, when in any indoor or outdoor public place, completely cover their nose and mouth when members of the public are physically present for otherwise unprotected social interaction with persons other than household members.”

The ordinance includes a 30-day time period to educate the public about the ordinance, but after 30 days, people who don’t follow the ordinance will be cited with an infraction and fined $50.

“We need to keep people safe and keep our businesses open. Wearing a mask is a simple step we can take to achieve that and we don’t want to have to go back any further in the stages of reopening than we already have,” Mayor Brian Blad said in a statement. “In addition to wearing a mask, we encourage all Pocatellans to follow the guidance from the health experts including washing your hands, practicing social distancing, staying home when you’re sick, covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoiding touching your face, and cleaning surfaces regularly.”

Bannock County has the most COVID-19 cases in Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s eight counties with 3,705. As of Thursday evening, the county has 543 active cases and 27 deaths.

Councilwoman Claudia Ortega said during the meeting that many people have expressed concerns that a mask mandate will be violating their constitutional rights. She explained that she’s read the Constitution many times and cannot find any clause or amendment addressing issues of public health.

“There is nothing about wearing a mask temporarily that impedes anyone’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” she stated. “Masks are one simple measure that can be taken, along with limiting gatherings, hand washing and social distancing, which all result in a reduction of the rate of transmission of this communicable disease.”

The ordinance goes into effect Nov. 21 at 12 a.m. To view the ordinance and see who is exempt from wearing a face covering, click here.

Pocatello isn’t the only city in eastern Idaho to discuss a mask mandate. At a Rexburg City Council meeting Wednesday, officials addressed a draft ordinance that states, “Every person shall, when in any indoor or outdoor public place, completely cover their nose and mouth with a cloth or similar face covering, when members of the public are physically present for otherwise unprotected social interaction.”

It goes onto explain that registered businesses are required to enforce this requirement on his or her premises. If a person or business violates the ordinance, they are guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine of $100 for the first offense and $300 for the second offense. If a person or business knowingly and willfully violates the ordinance a third time, they may be guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

“In addition to the above, any business which fails to comply with this Ordinance a third time, must close their business immediately upon notification until compliance is achieved,” the draft states. “Failure to comply or come into full compliance before reopening shall result in cancellation of City-issued Business Registration, and any other City-issued license, including liquor and other alcohol licenses.”

After the meeting was interrupted countless times by protestors outside City Hall and on the meeting audio feed, Rexburg Mayor Jerry Merrill said the council would make decisions regarding face masks at a later time.