POCATELLO — Pocatello is mulling an ordinance that would require citizens to wear masks in public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
City officials say they are planning to discuss the public health emergency ordinance during a work session at Pocatello City Hall at 9 a.m. on Thursday. There will only be a limited amount of seating at the public event, but people can view the meeting at streaming.pocatello.us or on Channel 56 on Sparklight (formerly CableOne).
Those interested can also review the proposed ordinance online at bit.ly/2VViWUs.
Under the proposal, citizens in indoor and outdoor public places would have to “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.”
But the ordinance does grant some exceptions.
Children under 5 years of age wouldn’t have to wear masks, neither would those who have medical conditions that make it difficult to use them. There are also exemptions for those obtaining services involving the face, eating at restaurants and working out at gyms, as well as those who are incarcerated or who are involved in law enforcement work.
Those in an indoor or outdoor space where they could maintain social distancing recommendations set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wouldn’t have to wear them either, according to the ordinance.
If approved, the city would give people 30 days to learn about the new requirement. After that, citizens could face an infraction, punishable by a $50 fine, for not complying, according to the ordinance.
Pocatello is not the first city in Idaho to contemplate such a move. In fact, Hailey, Moscow, Boise, McCall and Driggs have all put temporary mask policies in place, according to media reports. And some of them have even stiffer punishments, making failure to follow requirements a misdemeanor and charging up to a $100 fine.
Pocatello is considering the idea to help “slow the community spread (of COVID-19) and protect the health, safety and welfare of individuals living, working and visiting the City of Pocatello,” according to the ordinance.
And the virus is certainly circulating in the area. Idaho State University officials announced this week that a student-athlete had been diagnosed with COVID-19. And Southeastern Idaho Public Health officials reported 18 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in southeastern Idaho to 264. Nine of the new cases occurred in Bannock County, while there were seven in Bingham and one each in Caribou and Franklin counties.
But the public seems split on whether or not it’s a good idea to require people to wear masks. Many of those who shared their thoughts about the proposed ordinance on Idaho State Journal’s Facebook page on Tuesday encouraged Pocatello to move forward with the requirement, hoping it would slow the spread of the virus and help keep businesses open. But others felt the mask requirement would infringe on their rights and questioned the effectiveness of the coverings.
Still, health officials are encouraging those who are able to to wear face masks, whether or not they are required to in their city.
CDC officials say cloth face coverings help prevent respiratory droplets — which play a role in the spread of COVID-19 — from traveling through the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes or talks.
“COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), so the use of cloth face coverings is particularly important in settings where people are close to each other or where social distancing is difficult to maintain,” according to CDC’s website.