Ada County mask mandate will apply to schools

Ada County’s mask mandate will extend to schools — both K-12 and higher education.

On Tuesday, the Central District Health board amended its July 14 mask order to address school buildings and school grounds.

Masks will be required on school grounds at all times, as long as other people are present “and physical distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained.” Masks are required in school buildings at all times, unless staffers are in a private office, or unless teachers can maintain 10 feet of social distancing in a classroom.

The mask mandate now extends to the state’s two largest school districts, West Ada and Boise; Boise State University, Idaho’s largest four-year institution; and the Ada County campus of the College of Western Idaho, the state’s largest community college.

Before Tuesday’s vote, two board members clashed over the new language.

Ted Epperly, the Boise physician who pushed for the countywide mandate in July, called the language a clarification — since the order had already applied to all public places within Ada County.

State Rep. Megan Blanksma disagreed.

“Clearly that wasn’t made clear at the time of the motion,” said Blanksma, a Hammett Republican who represents Elmore County on the four-county district’s board.

Blanksma wanted the board to hold off until next week, when the state’s health districts are expected to release new wording that defines local levels of coronavirus spread. Those definitions serve as the linchpin for the state’s school reopening guidelines.

Epperly urged the board to stay the course. Ada County continues to see significant increases in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths — including 175 new confirmed or probable coronavirus cases, and three fatalities reported Tuesday. But Epperly pointed out that the new case numbers are showing signs of leveling off, thanks to the mask mandate and the health district’s June order to close bars and ban large gatherings.

“Let’s not step backwards here,” he said. “This is an important moment for us.”

The board approved the school mask language on a 5-1 vote, with Blanksma dissenting.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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