EIPH Board 9.10

Eastern Idaho Public Health’s board of county representatives met Thursday, Sept. 10.

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Teton County is no longer under a countywide mask mandate from Eastern Idaho Public Health, and Jefferson County might join soon.

That’s after the regional health board of county representatives voted Thursday morning to lift social restrictions in Teton County as new coronavirus cases there slow. In another vote, the health board set Jefferson County’s social restrictions to expire Saturday, so long as its active case rate remains under a threshold of 10 per 10,000 residents until Friday evening.

Discussion over lifting Teton’s mandates, in many ways, mirrored the board’s talks on Aug. 6, when it tried to lift Teton’s mandates, only to re-instate them a few days later when cases rose again.

Both Teton County representative Bill Leake and the board’s only voting doctor, Dr. Barabara Nelson, voted against lifting the mandates. And most other board members said the board should “stick” to its plan.

Leake said locals want the mandate to stay. Mandates from the cities of Driggs and Victor are still in place, along with an order from the county requiring masks in public places outside city limits, but the health board’s order applies to all areas within the county.

“We just started schools. We need to give that another couple of weeks, or at least a week, to see how that panned out,” Leake said.

The plan says when an area breaches certain metrics, an area should move up in risk level and see social restrictions. Once a mandate is in place for at least two weeks, and cases stay below that risk level’s threshold for one week, the plan says the board can lift the mandate.

“If we do not lift this according to our plan, we need to revamp our plan, otherwise we are denying the insights of some and I’m just, I’m not comfortable with that,” said Madison County representative Brent Mendenhall. “We either follow our plan or we revamp our plan.”

Nelson asked “doesn’t our plan give us the flexibility to not rigidly follow those guidelines?” Health district Director Geri Rackow replied “everything, certainly, within the plan is at the discretion of the board.”

“If we don’t follow our metrics, I think we lose all the credibility that we’ve earned from the public,” said Lemhi County representative Ken Miner.

In discussions about “following” the plan, board members have tended to not talk about eastern Idaho’s unusually high rate of coronavirus tests that return positive. It’s the highest in the state, Rackow said Thursday, at 16%. Statewide and regionally, the test positivity rate has improved significantly, but it isn’t yet under the 5% mark that national health experts say indicates most coronavirus cases are being reported.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.