It’s time for a statewide mask mandate

The predicted spike in COVID-19 cases during the colder months has arrived but in far greater numbers than forecast. Our ethical defense is widespread compliance with face-mask wearing, which will likely come only through a statewide mask mandate. The sooner a mandate is instituted, the greater the number of saved lives and the shorter the mandate.

The number of cases in Idaho since the beginning of November has spiked 51%, and this week a record 1,618 cases were reported in one day. In Bonneville County, 138 new cases were reported this past Wednesday alone, bringing the number of confirmed active cases in our county to 502. Most sadly, since the pandemic began, 738 Idahoans — including 45 in Bonneville County — have died when those unnecessary deaths could have been reduced by at least half by high compliance with face mask-wearing. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 75% of us support wearing a mask. But when we look around, it’s obvious that compliance with the East Idaho Public Health District mask mandate is inadequate. Face mask mandates of local jurisdictions can do only so much.

Idaho Falls critical care physician Kenneth Krell and other members of the Idaho Disaster Medical Advisory Committee sent a letter last week to Gov. Little stating that “haphazard compliance” undermines the effectiveness of mask-wearing, and that Idaho’s health care system is “very close” to meeting the criteria for crisis implementation. Trained hospital staff simply can’t keep up with the caseload in eastern Idaho and throughout the state. In the letter, they “beg” Gov. Little to immediately institute a statewide, enforceable mask mandate or face the “nightmare scenario” of a health care crisis.

Perhaps most telling of our need for a mask mandate, in Idaho, the COVID-19 positive test rate is 40.3% compared with a 5% rate that is considered acceptable. Only South Dakota (54.6%), Iowa (50.1%) and Kansas (42.6%) have a higher percentage of positive tests. While South Dakota and Iowa don’t have a mask mandate, Kansas has one but in name only — it allows counties to opt-out, and most have.

Protection against community spread is directly proportional to compliance with mask-wearing. In addition, the CDC has released new information that wearing a mask not only protects others from your exhalations, it protects you from inhaling virus-laden droplets from others. Considering that half of the transmissions occur from asymptomatic people, the benefit of a high percentage of us wearing a mask is unmistakable.

In Idaho, we proudly speak about our family values. Let’s put actions behind our words now with this simple act to protect all our families.

Wearing a face mask is inconvenient. But a statewide mask mandate is far better than our teachers, grocery store clerks, those with whom we worship, friends, family members and maybe even ourselves dying unnecessarily from COVID-19 when wearing a mask could have saved their lives or our own. When the current upsurge subsides, the mandate could be canceled, and we could all breathe easier.

Pat Tucker is chairwoman of the Bonneville County Democratic Party.