The city of Moscow led the way in Idaho during the early days of the pandemic, putting in place a mask mandate and encouraging social distancing and other healthy behavior.

Mayor Bill Lambert was the city’s face behind those difficult decisions and shouldered a fair share of the backlash that came from a matter that should be about public safety, not politics.

Lambert, a lifelong Republican, was particularly surprised by those who labeled him a liberal or RINO (Republican in name only) for implementing the mask mandate, which has since been dropped.

Now, with the delta variant surging and the number of hospitalizations and deaths on the rise, Lambert and the city may have to consider new steps in the fight against COVID-19.

“We’re talking about doing something in the next few days, but I don’t want to comment on that because we haven’t got the details worked out (yet),” he said.

Craig Clohessy: Masks and social distancing are important, but what’s the real solution to stemming this pandemic?

Bill Lambert: My biggest advice to people is get vaccinated. The majority of people getting infected are unvaccinated, the majority of people that are going to hospitals are unvaccinated, so it’s pretty clear to me that the people that are getting the sickest are those who are not getting vaccinated. Full disclosure, I have been vaccinated. I’ve had both Pfizer shots and I plan on taking a booster shot as well. And the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) made approval here not too long ago on the vaccine itself. So those that were hesitant to take it because the FDA had not approved it, they (have now).

CC: Despite all that, the numbers still remain terrible in Idaho.

BL: They are. Last I heard we were like 40.5 percent people vaccinated. We know that we need to get to 75 percent. ... If you have another 35 percent of the populous, you’re looking at a lot of people. ... I’m not a scientist, I’m not a doctor. I just follow facts. ... What we hear from our health department, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), those are the guidelines that we use.

The last I heard, Idaho was not dead last but next to last in vaccinations and I think it’s a sad thing that people, for whatever reason, don’t trust it. Personally, I’ve known a number of people that have died from this, including a relative. It’s very much out there. And of course, there were a lot of folks that thought it (COVID-19) was a hoax and it was some kind of conspiracy.

You’ve got to look at all the facts and work through that and try to do what’s best for your community, your neighbors.

CC: The city of Lewiston had a mask mandate in place for a time and then moved away from that. Now they’re meeting on Monday to consider that and other options. One of the likely blowbacks from the previous restrictions is a measure on the November ballot to change the form of government in Lewiston to a strong mayor approach. You had some blowback from when you put in place the mask mandate in Moscow. From your experience, do you have any words of wisdom for Lewiston?

BL: You just have to do the best you can with what you have to work with. You’ll still get pushback, but I think it’s been proven that COVID is here and it’s here to stay until we (reach) herd (immunity). ... You’ve just got to do what’s right for your community. Whatever decision you make on it, you will have people who will be happy about it and you’re going to have people who will be mad about it. You can’t avoid it. And sometimes you have those that think it’s an overreach of your power and all you’re trying to do really is protect your community and protect others.

CC: You’ve opted not to seek reelection after two terms as mayor. Did pushback over the implementation of COVID restrictions play a role in that decision?

BL: No, it didn’t. I believe in term limits. I always have believed in term limits. So no, it didn’t have anything to do with me not running this time. I told my family and people very close to me that helped me with my campaign four years ago that I would not go another term. And I meant that, I wanted to be honest about it with people. We’re going to move forward and let a new set of eyes take a look at it.

Now, with that being said, I felt very honored to be the mayor in Moscow for eight years as well as a councilor for four years. I was on our planning and zoning commission for almost five years and our board of adjustment for four years. I’ve got 21 years involved in city government one way or another.

CC: Is there one accomplishment you are particularly proud of during your time as mayor?

BL: One particular thing is getting a new police department, getting a bond passed for a police department that we needed sorely for decades in this town. And it’s just about completed; it’s going to be pretty well done here in another month.

CC: What’s next for Bill Lambert?

BL: I’m going to kind of relax a little bit — take some time off. My wife and I will probably do some traveling, which I have not been able to do for quite a while. But you know, I will not quit doing something. I’ll give you one example: In our area, we’ve got the Palouse Basin Aquifer Committee. We’re always having water issues and we’ve had some annexations, new properties and different things. So an alternative water source in our community is going to be a big thing for the entire Palouse. That’s something I’ll probably be involved with as we go along.

Clohessy is managing editor of the Lewiston Tribune. He may be contacted at cclohessy@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2251.