With COVID-19 cases rising in Idaho and hospitals across the state sounding the alarm, state legislators representing District 26 are calling on Gov. Brad Little to issue a statewide mask requirement.
In an email newsletter sent out Friday, Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, and Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, urged residents of Blaine, Gooding, Camas and Lincoln counties to reach out to the Governor’s Office to ask for a mandate.
“Idahoans have lost their jobs, homes, and loved ones to the coronavirus pandemic and there is no end in sight,” the two representatives wrote in the email. “The spread of coronavirus is increasing on a nearly daily basis, and it’s clear that our current strategy is not working.”
In an interview with the Mountain Express on Monday, Davis cited a shortage of available hospital beds and health care professionals across Idaho as a primary reason for supporting a statewide requirement.
“As someone who had a catastrophic ski accident, I don’t want to see someone else taken to the hospital and there are no beds for them,” said Davis, a former Paralympic athlete who uses a wheelchair. “We need to have beds open for if [outdoor accidents] happen. We are at that brink where we may not be.”
Another reason for a statewide mandate, as Davis sees it: encouraging Idahoans to go out and support local businesses by making them feel safer in public.
While Little issued a statewide stay-at-home order in March limiting business operations and social gatherings, he has said since then that any additional coronavirus measures—including requiring people to wear face coverings in public—will be left up to local governments and public health districts. Thirty-seven states—including Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington—have implemented some form of a mask mandate.
Blaine County and four of its cities—Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue—have had mask requirements in place since July. A number of other cities, counties and public health districts across the state have also implemented their own mandates, though the South Central Public Health District and the city of Twin Falls have not.
Little has said he believes masks are a matter of personal responsibility—not a measure that should be legally required at the state level. Davis disputed that argument, pointing to Idaho’s case rates, death rates and hospitalization numbers.
“I think we tried [leaving mask use to personal responsibility] and it hasn’t been successful,” she said. “That’s the definition of insanity—to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Toone told the Mountain Express that the newsletter, which included a link to send a form email to the governor, was in response to numerous calls and emails from constituents on both sides of the issue.
“We had a lot of emails and we felt that was the easiest way to help our constituents have a voice,” Toone said.
“There are people on both sides,” Davis said. “And the people that don’t want it are the ones that have up until now been the most vocal. I think the people who want it should start being vocal.”
As of Monday evening, there had been 111,893 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Idaho, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, including 1,383 new cases recorded Monday. There had been 1,055 coronavirus-related deaths across the state.