Boise mayor to issue order making face coverings mandatory

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The mayor of Idaho’s largest city said Thursday that she will sign a public health emergency order requiring face coverings in all indoor and outdoor public places.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean cited the significant increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in making the order, which will take effect Saturday, for the city's 225,000 residents.

Boise, the state capital, becomes the fifth — and by far the largest — city in the state to require face coverings. Moscow, Hailey, McCall and Driggs are also requiring face coverings. Other local governments are considering similar measures as coronavirus cases surge in the state.

Idaho had 267 new confirmed infections Wednesday, for a total of 6,370 cases and 92 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

And the 14-day trend for the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 continues to climb, jumping from 4.1% to 13% on Wednesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The positivity rate is a measure of how widespread the disease is in the community, and Idaho guidelines say that number needs to be under 5% to lift restrictions.

“We must do all we can, as a community, to protect our most vulnerable, and slow the spread of this virus that is a serious risk to our health and economy, especially as we head into the Fourth of July holiday weekend and summer vacation season,” McLean said in a statement.

The order contains exceptions for children under age 5, on-duty first-responders, or those with health or communications concerns. There are also exceptions for indoor and outdoor public places where social distancing can be practiced.

Republican Gov. Brad Little has encouraged face coverings and wears one himself in gatherings but has declined to make them mandatory. He said the diverse nature of the state, with some people working alone outdoors, doesn’t make such an order sensible.

Little’s reopening strategy has stalled with the uptick in cases, and heavily populated Ada County in which Boise is located has reverted to greater restrictions. Bars have been shut down, where the initial surge of infections began after customers ignored social distancing and didn’t wear face coverings.

In a major shift in policy, Little said last week that local officials would be allowed to determine restrictions with his oversight, citing concerns that some areas might have overly permissive rules that would lead to more infections.

McLean said she had the support of the health and business communities.

The city plans to give away disposable masks on Friday at several locations, with a limit of six masks per household.

“We are very concerned about how rapidly this virus is spreading through the community,” David Peterman of Primary Health Medical Group said in a statement. “Wearing masks has been proven the most effective way to stop the spread.”

The mayor's office didn't return a call from The Associated Press about when McLean planned to sign the order.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.