Southwest District Health recommends face coverings, no mandate put into place

Posted at 4:17 PM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 19:37:39-04

CALDWELL, Idaho — After two meeting cancellations and a change of venue, the Southwest District Health Board finally met today to discuss the impacts of COVID-19. The meeting was held in the Canyon County Courthouse and masks were only recommended for those who chose to attend.

Public comments were not taken at the meeting, but the crowd did get rather vocal at times. Residents in attendance cheered in response to the mention of no mask mandates in place for Canyon County, compared to Boise and Ada County.

During the discussion, the Board Chair, who is from Gem County, adamantly refused to discuss a mandate within their district. The Board does recommend face coverings in public settings, physical distancing and limiting crowd size at large venues.

The Canyon County Board of Commissioners issued the following statement about face coverings:

The Canyon County Board of Commissioners recognizes the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, and urges all people to take this illness seriously. The Board has been listening carefully to local medical professionals and Southwest District Health (SWDH) about the science and purpose of the CDC recommended mitigation practices, including masks/face coverings. We have also been monitoring how our regional partners and other local public entities are interpreting that same information. The responses, and public opinions about those responses, vary widely. Our American way of life depends on beating this virus and to do that we have to fight together, instead of against each other.

Cloth face coverings are one tool in the toolbox of COVID-fighters, appropriate for some circumstances but not others. Common sense is the best guide to distinguishing which circumstances require a mask, just as it is for using the other tools: washing your hands, avoiding touching your face, sanitizing surfaces, and staying home if you are sick.

We support SWDH’s decision to not create an unenforceable, general public mandate that might compromise law enforcement relations with the public. Our economy, our schools, our way of life depend on limiting the transmission of the virus, and we are individually committed to doing our part. Working together, we will get through this.

As part of the discussion, Board Members referenced hospitals in our area being at 50 percent capacity, which leaders at St. Luke's say does not accurately describe what is going on. That also includes hospital beds in Neonatal ICU's or pediatric wards.

Doctors say they are disappointed with the mask recommendation, rather than a mandate.

"Canyon County has 50% more cases per 100-thousand people than Florida does; has now triple the rate of Harris County where Houston is; so I think if you take the state of Idaho as a whole, there are some areas that maybe are doing okay, but we are not doing okay in Canyon County and Ada County and frankly Canyon County is worse off than Ada County," said Dr. Laura McGeorge, St. Luke’s Health System Medical Director, Primary and Specialty Care.

On Monday of this week, St. Luke's experienced an all-time high of 100 COVID-19 hospitalizations. According to hospital officials, ICUs in Nampa and Meridian were both full on Tuesday morning, except one bed in Meridian that is kept open for patients who require resuscitation.