In the face of vocal opposition Monday night, the Lewiston City Council abandoned the face mask advisory order it passed in July, with only Councilor John Bradbury offering support.
The council had to revisit the advisory, intended to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, after it was voided by a violation of Idaho’s open meeting law at its July 27 meeting. And while the earlier advisory drew support from all on the council except Mayor Mike Collins and Councilor John Pernsteiner, Bradbury’s motion Monday to approve it again failed for lack of a second. Collins was absent from Monday’s four-hour meeting.
Councilors not only revisited several actions they took at two past meetings, but heard again from dozens of anti-mask residents who repeated their opposition to any type of order.
City officials kept much of the public just outside the doors of the July 27 meeting to aid with social distancing, and provided a video monitor and audio feed so they could follow the proceedings. But in response to complaints, Nez Perce County Prosecutor Justin Coleman ruled earlier this month that the meeting inadvertently violated Idaho open meeting laws.
That invalidated the actions taken at the meeting. The council also acknowledged another inadvertent violation Monday that came during its Sept. 14 meeting, where councilors amended the agenda without posting the amendments to the city website. Actions at that meeting were also reconsidered Monday, with no changes to the earlier outcomes.
Citizen comments Monday were largely a repeat of the July 27 meeting, with several commenters repeating many of the widely debunked claims about masks. Many asserted that cloth face masks trap exhaled carbon dioxide, leading to negative health impacts. Many studies have shown this to be false, mainly because such masks don’t fit tightly against the face. One exception is for tight-fitting N95 respirators generally intended for health care workers. And those typically only cause adverse effects if worn for more than an hour. The symptoms can be alleviated by simply removing the mask.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cloth masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 by containing the respiratory droplets that contain the coronavirus and are especially helpful when social distancing isn’t possible. Carbon dioxide molecules pass freely through both cloth and N95 masks, and they may only pose health risks for people with sleep apnea or severe lung disease who require oxygen, according to www.healthline.com.
Other commenters mentioned a conspiracy theory that has percolated around the community over the last few months about a reference to “special police” in an updated ordinance regarding civil defense and public health emergencies. One even evoked images of these “special police” kicking down doors in a sinister plot orchestrated by City Manager Alan Nygaard to enforce a mask mandate (which the city has never proposed).
But the reference actually dated from 1960, according to the city attorney’s office, and was intended to give officials the authority to recruit citizens for Cold War-era duties like checking bomb shelters.
The special police provision was deleted as part of the code update when City Attorney Jana Gomez told the council it wasn’t necessary.
Pernsteiner pleaded with those on both sides of the mask issue to cool their rhetoric.
“There have been a lot of personal attacks that have been unwarranted in this, and I just really hope that we as a community can debate the issues without getting hostile with our language, with our behaviors toward one another,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things that I’ve valued growing up in this community, and it’s been concerning over this last year.”
He voiced support for Nygaard, who has been attacked as the source of the mask advisory and even issued a civil citation for misdemeanor battery for an alleged physical incident with a resident at the July 27 meeting.
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