Though they acknowledged a dramatic increase in coronavirus cases in Blaine County and regionally, Bellevue elected officials declined to make changes in enforcement of the city’s mask mandate at a council meeting Monday.
Council members expressed concern over an apparent lack of face mask use among locals and travelers passing through town. To spur compliance, they discussed the possibility of ramping up outreach efforts and issuing citations for violations of the city’s ordinance requiring masks at businesses.
Mayor Ned Burns said he wanted to avoid a repeat of the near-total business shutdowns that took place in March to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“All we’re trying to do is keep businesses open and people working,” Burns said.
Councilman Sean Mahoney said regional hospitals in southern Idaho and Utah have been filling up with COVID patients, putting at risk others who may need hospital care for other serious conditions.
“There may be no room at the inn,” Mahoney said.
Since July 15, the city has had a law requiring face masks in businesses and social distancing of 6 feet, with no masks required outside if social distancing is practiced, according to Bellevue Marshal Mynde Heil. She said a $50 citation can be written at the discretion of a police officer.
“We have not issued citations until now, but we have the ability to do so,” Heil told the Mountain Express.
Councilmen Doug Brown and Greg Cappel said Monday that they had seen people with out-of-town plates at local stores and gas stations not wearing masks.
“People from out of town could be infecting us,” Brown said, adding that it might be time to “start busting some people” to get the word out that the city takes the coronavirus spread seriously.
Cappel said he tended to agree, and that he would join Brown on a campaign to post “no mask, no service” signs on businesses. Councilwoman Tammy Davis recommended posting a visible banner about the face mask order for passersby.
Councilman Chris Johnson said he has not supported a face mask mandate for individuals because “there is no way to enforce them.”
“I have seen some businesses enforce it, but if they are not in compliance, we should look at them,” Johnson said. “Our law enforcement could cite them.”
Heil illustrated the challenges police face in enforcing the mask mandate, even though businesses have had mask mandate notices on their front doors since July. She told the council Monday about her recent efforts to enforce the facemask mandate at the Valley Country Store at the south end of town. She said she asked a young man entering the store if he had a face mask.
“He said no, and left,” Heil said.
Heil said the boy’s father called the store to complain. The manager told Heil that what she said to the boy was “uncalled for,” adding that it was not his job to enforce the city’s laws in the store, according to Heil.
It’s “tricky” to try to enforce the mask mandate, Heil said, when police officers have other duties to attend to.
“Even in a small town, we can’t be everywhere at once,” she said. “We just hope people will wear masks, if not for themselves, then for those people around them.”
The mayor and council made no plans to institute changes in enforcement. Burns said he would continue to bring opportunities to the council to discuss outreach and education efforts only.
Other Bellevue news
- The council agreed to set aside the first of three $20,000 planned installments over a three-year period to match a $62,000 grant from the Janice Seagraves Foundation to fund emergency medical services programs.
- The council agreed to spend $9,737 for annual maintenance of Fire Department equipment.