BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The city of Hailey is asking a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought by an anti-mask group, arguing the group's members can't show they've actually been harmed by a local mask mandate.
The city of Hailey and other central Idaho towns surrounding the popular Sun Valley ski resort were at the epicenter of the state's first major coronavirus outbreak in March 2020. The city enacted its mask mandate — requiring most people to wear masks in public when indoors or outside when social distancing is impossible — in July 2020, and a version of the order has remained in place ever since.
Idaho remains one of the least-vaccinated states in the nation and unvaccinated COVID-19 patients have overwhelmed hospitals. A month ago, state public health leaders enacted “crisis standards of care,” allowing hospitals to ration health care as needed to deal with the flood of patients.
About a week after the state entered crisis standards of care, an anti-mask organization based hundreds of miles away in the northern Idaho city of Sandpoint sued Hailey on behalf of its members that live in and near the central Idaho town. In the lawsuit, the group said the mask mandate amounted to a “mandatory human experiment,” that it violates their fundamental human rights and that the local rule violates federal law in part because the masks available at the time hadn't received final approval from the federal Food and Drug Association.
“Forcing every person in a public place in Hailey to wear a face covering constitutes a violation of international law, federal law, and Idaho law, all of which prohibit human experiments absent informed consent,” the group's attorney, Allen Shoff, wrote in the lawsuit.
Some of the members have experienced headaches, dizziness or feelings of claustrophobia when wearing masks, Shoff said.
In a motion to dismiss the case filed Tuesday, Hailey's attorney Deborah Ferguson said state law specifically allows cities to pass regulations intended to protect public health. Ferguson also noted that Hailey's mask mandate includes several exceptions, including for children under 5 years old, people who are hearing impaired, those taking part in athletics, and people who can't medically tolerate wearing a face mask.
Those who can't medically tolerate a mask must wear a face shield under the city's rules, but they don't have to show any proof to use the medical exemption.
“It is conceivable that this exemption would cover all of the Plaintiffs, as Plaintiffs allege that the wearing of masks causes them a myriad of physiological and psychological harms,” Ferguson wrote.
The claim that the mask mandate is a medical experiment is “bizarre,” she said, and the anti-mask group hasn't shown its members were harmed or even that they face the risk of imminent harm from the mandate. None of the members claim to have been cited for violating the mask rules, and none claim to have been personally forced to wear a mask.
“The City's Public Health Emergency orders mandating masks is rationally related to a compelling government interest to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Ferguson wrote.