Look, Ask, Share

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper addresses the press during a Look, Ask, Share roll out press conference on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. City officials have deployed a website for business owners to pledge they will make a plan for reopening safely during their allotted time.

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Idaho Falls City Council on Thursday will consider making face masks mandatory in public spaces, as a growing number of Idaho cities are doing as the state’s COVID-19 caseload soars, according to an agenda posted on the city website on Tuesday evening.

The announcement comes one day after Bonneville County notched 15 new COVID-19 cases in one day on Monday. Mayor Rebecca Casper said at a City Council work session Monday night that the daily case count following Independence Day weekend set a record for the entire pandemic in Bonneville County.

“That puts us in a whole new ballgame,” she said. She said she wasn’t sure, though, what that signals for eastern Idaho’s COVID-19 caseload. But she said it doesn’t seem promising, a sentiment that eastern Idaho regional health officials expressed last week when they started public talks about mandating face masks in public.

“This isn’t just the peak, and we’re gonna go down from today. I think the numbers are going to climb,” Casper said.

Idaho cities that have imposed mask mandates so far have done it in two ways. In some, mayors have issued temporary orders using their emergency powers, while in others, City Councils have voted first. Casper said Monday she would want any action of hers to reflect a consensus of the City Council.

“If we can’t all agree or have some consensus on what we’re doing, it’s probably a weak move for me to do on my own,” she said.

Thursday’s agenda doesn’t contain a draft proposal for the Council to vote on, and it remains to be seen what will happen that night. Casper acknowledged in her remarks the political controversy surrounding the issue, calling it a “political hot potato” and indicating she would be willing to act by proclamation if the Council doesn’t want to vote.

“I will carry that potato, and I will burn my hands if I have to, but I still want your input,” she said.

Thursday’s City Council meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. and will be viewable online through the city’s website and people can attend in person, though seating will be limited, according to city spokesman Bud Cranor.

Pocatello City Council will also consider issuing a mask mandate Thursday.

Cranor told the Post Register on Tuesday that Casper and other local public officials will meet with Eastern Idaho Public Health on Wednesday, privately, to discuss how local governments can respond to the pandemic, including through mask mandates. He said these are part of typical meetings local public officials have with the health district.

Casper said at the Monday meeting that several city employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19, including at least one firefighter and four police officers. She said several tests are pending and several employees have quarantined.

“I think that those quarantines are going to start impacting, at some point, if these mushroom too much more, we’ll end up having to prioritize calls fairly significantly to the point where if you call dispatch, if you don’t have a truly emergent matter, it may not be addressed in a conventional way where you would see somebody roll up and take care of your needs,” Casper said.

Casper said told the council that “we’re back to March in terms of testing. It’s a five- to seven-day wait right now,” citing conversations she said she’s had with Eastern Idaho Public Health.

Casper said area hospitals are treating roughly the same amount of patients that they typically do, so hospital capacity isn’t currently stressed.

Though eastern Idaho’s COVID-19 caseload has remained relatively low throughout the pandemic, area health professionals have said they fear that spikes in nearby areas could lead to more cases here and that sparse testing here hampers public understanding of how widespread the virus is locally.

Post Register Reporter Nathan Brown contributed.

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.