Following passionate discussion Monday night about whether a Lewiston city mandate requiring face masks to prevent COVID-19 should be continued for another 30 days, the city council voted 4-3 to repeal the law that was originally passed in November.
Mayor Michael Collins, Councilors Kevin Kelly, Cari Miller and John Pernsteiner all cast votes to discontinue the mandate. Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Schroeder and Councilors Bob Blakey and John Bradbury voted to continue it.
Blakey warned against discontinuing the mandate even though recent data from Public Health – Idaho North Central District show a consistent decline in the number of deaths and infections from COVID-19. Tests on the city’s wastewater taken March 15, however, do show a slight uptick in the number of infections.
Blakey pointed out that the Idaho Legislature had to adjourn this week because of an outbreak of infection among members and staff.
“What happened in the state Legislature is, many legislators thought they were beyond reproach,” Blakey said. Now they are unable to do their job “because of foolishness. It’s a good example of letting our guard down too soon.
“I’m impressed with the numbers (of declining infections and deaths),” Blakey said. “Have we beaten it? No. Are we winning? Absolutely. ... As we learn more, we make changes. I’m in no hurry to abandon this. I think the results have been positive for our city.”
Schroeder also favored keeping the mandate in place — in large part to support the Lewiston School District that currently has only four active cases in a student and staff population of 5,587.
“We need to support them and continue this mandate so they can have a safe prom and graduation,” Schroeder said. “I am very much in support of continuing the mask mandate.”
Miller agreed that the school district has been successful and said, while she believes in the effectiveness of face masks, “I want to empower the school district to make that decision for themselves. Right now they don’t have a choice. They have to have masks because of the mandate. If we had an advisory they could make that choice. I think a (mask) advisory is better suited at this time and empowers the school board to make the decision.”
At one point during the meeting, Ada and Richard Eldridge disrupted the discussion and ignored Collins’ pleas to be quiet. Ada Eldridge accused Blakey of being in public without a mask. Earlier, the Eldridges made scathing accusations against several of the council members, claiming the city council was misappropriating COVID-19 relief funds and muzzling Bradbury at previous meetings.
“You guys have done a very poor job,” Richard Eldridge said. “You’re all on your knees for (City Manager Alan) Nygaard. It’s disgusting. You’ve shuffled off the COVID money that’s supposed to go to businesses that are struggling. You all should be ashamed of yourself.”
After repeated attempts to quiet the Eldridges, Collins adjourned the meeting for five minutes. When it resumed the Eldridges apparently were no longer in the meeting room at the Lewiston City Library.
The councilors continued to discuss what criteria they should use to determine when a mask mandate was no longer needed.
Pernsteiner pointed out that the health department has ranked Nez Perce County in the lowest risk category and asked what other criteria the city would need before lifting the mandate.
“In times like this,” Pernsteiner said, “it’s the uncertainty of it all that drives everybody crazy. We need to set that criteria. We’ve had four or five different ideas tonight and none are concrete. ... Nez Perce County is minimal risk (according to the health department) and that’s the only one that’s actually concrete. I’m more for clarity than I am for anything else.”
Bradbury countered that the numbers of people getting sick and dying from the disease began to plummet in November after the council adopted its mask requirement.
“The fact is, (the mandate) has worked,” Bradbury said. “I know it is an inconvenience. It is successful when people aren’t getting infected and people aren’t dying. That’s the effect (the mandate) has.”
Collins said, according to the health department, almost a third of the city’s population has now been vaccinated.
“I’m not in support of a mask mandate but we need some criteria (to know) when we reach that point,” Collins said. “What is the actual number so we know what we’re striving for? I’m in favor of a black-and-white figure.”
Kelly, who had voted for the mask mandate in November and January but switched his vote this time to change the outcome, said the criteria should be based on “when the vaccines are abundantly available. I believe that we are in the beginning of that right now. That’s my criteria for a win.”
In other business, the council adopted two proclamations honoring past mayors Marion Shinn and Ron Jones on their 100th birthdays. Jones was mayor from 1970 to 1974. Shinn was mayor from 1987 to 1989.
The council also approved an ordinance restricting bicycles, motor bicycles, motor scooters, e-bikes and e-scooters from city sidewalks in the downtown corridor.
Hedberg may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 983-2326.