Face coverings have long been recommended by health officials to prevent the spread of COVID-19 — and now, in Idaho’s largest city, they’re required.
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean signed a health order that made face coverings mandatory starting last Saturday, July 4, for 30 days.
Here are answers to some Boiseans’ questions about the order. And here’s a little-known fact: McLean’s order never even mentions masks.
WHAT DOES THE ORDER ACTUALLY SAY?
It says in part:
“Face Coverings Required. 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.”
Bandannas and scarves are fine. No particular style or type of mask is required.
A public place means “any place open to all members of public without specific invitation, including but not necessarily limited to, retail business establishments, government offices, medical, educational, arts and recreational institutions, public transportation, including taxi cabs and ridesharing vehicles.”
“Members of the public,” the order says, means “persons not therein employed, present without invitation.”
There are notable exemptions in the order.
WHAT ARE THE EXEMPTIONS?
There are seven, including small children, people dining in restaurants, outdoor locations as long as you can remain socially distant, and indoor businesses like gyms as long as you remain distant. The verbatim list:
- Children under the age of five (5).
- Persons who cannot medically tolerate wearing a face covering. A person is not required to provide documentation demonstrating that the person cannot medically tolerate wearing a face covering.
- Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
- Persons, including on-duty first responders, for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety
- Persons who are obtaining a service involving the nose, face, or head for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service. Persons who are eating or drinking at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, so long as the person is able to maintain a distance of 6 feet away from persons who are not members of the same household or party as the person.
- Outdoor public places where people can employ social distancing as recommended by CDC.
- Indoor recreational facilities (i.e., gyms and fitness facilities) where people can employ social distancing as recommended by the CDC.
MUST I COVER MY FACE ON THE GREENBELT? ON THE SIDEWALK?
Yes. If you’re going to be in a place where you are going to be within 6 feet of other people, you need to have a face covering.
That includes spaces like the Greenbelt, city sidewalks, parks and Foothills trails whenever you’ll be passing or interacting with other people. (Greenbelt traffic has surged during the lockdowns, so you are likely to see other people.)
DO I NEED TO WEAR A FACE COVERING IN STORES?
Yes, if you cannot stay 6 feet away from others while in the store. Stores can refuse you service if they have a mask policy in place and you are not wearing one.
Some local stores have put those policies in place, including Albertsons.
“With Boise City’s public health emergency order beginning July 4 requiring everyone (with exemptions) to wear face coverings when in any indoor or outdoor public place where members of the public are present, our Boise stores have implemented procedures to follow that guidance,” Albertsons spokesperson Kathy Holland wrote by email.
Signs have been added to the front entrances of the company’s Boise stores alerting customers.
“We are reminding shoppers that a non-medical grade mask or face covering must be worn by any person who enters the store (with exemptions) and that social distancing of at least 6 feet, or two shopping carts, must be maintained,” Holland said.
Jacksons Food Stores requires them too.
“We are requiring all our employees, and customers where required, to wear a mask,” Ben Wynkoop, vice president of marketing, wrote in an email.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I DO NOT TO WEAR A MASK?
Haley Williams, spokesperson for the Boise Police Department, told the Statesman the department has not issued any citations to people not wearing masks or not following social distancing orders.
“We are hoping people take this situation seriously,” Williams said in an email. “We do remain focused on education first and foremost and are hopeful local residents and businesses will comply for the health of the entire community. We are not encouraging people to call in complaints on individuals.”
The Ada County Sheriff’s Office has seen an increase in calls to emergency dispatchers about people violating McLean’s order, Idaho News 6 reported. The sheriff’s office asks people not to call 911 about masks.
Williams encourages people to call a Boise police nonemergency number, 208-377-6790, if a situation turns confrontational.
IF THE ORDER IS STILL IN PLACE WHEN SCHOOL STARTS, WILL STUDENTS HAVE TO WEAR MASKS?
That depends on the district.
Don Hollar, spokesperson for the Boise School District, said the district will comply with the order, meaning students will be required to wear masks when not able to be socially distant.
Eric Exline, spokesperson for the West Ada School District — the largest district in the state and where some students who live in Boise go to school — said the district is looking into the matter.
“Most of our schools aren’t in Boise,” he wrote in an email. Of the district’s 56 schools, seven are in the western part of the city.
WHY DO I NEED TO WEAR A MASK?
The order lists a few reasons — COVID-19 cases are surging in Ada County (with the worst of it hitting Boise), testing at wastewater treatment plants show an increased presence of the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House both recommend them.
The coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, spreads through small droplets in the air. The masks, when worn properly (covering both nose and mouth) help to make sure that those droplets don’t spread.
Studies have shown that “regardless of the quality or material of the mask, the rate of new infections was lowered when the percentage of population wearing masks increased, also reducing hospitalization and death rates,” Statesman science fellow Natalia Guiterrez-Pinto wrote last month in a story on masks and how to use them correctly.