By Melissa Davlin and Ruth Brown, Idaho Public Television
On Thursday morning, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin posted on Twitter that, as acting governor, she had issued an executive order banning mask mandates in government entities, including public schools.
The Secretary of State’s office confirmed that it had received the order from McGeachin on Thursday morning. The executive order went into effect at 11 am MT Thursday, and applies to all government facilities except for hospitals, health care facilities and federal buildings.
On Thursday morning, McGeachin said she was primarily concerned about children being forced to wear masks in schools.
“It’s just especially hard for me to see the little kids being forced to wear a mask in school,” McGeachin told Idaho Reports. When asked if she was concerned about children younger than 12 who aren’t currently eligible to get the vaccine, she said no.
“That’s not the population that is at risk,” she said, adding that nothing prevents teachers from wearing masks if they wish to do so.
While COVID-19 complications in children are rare, some children do experience a serious side effect called Multisymptom Inflammatory Syndrome, or MIS-C. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports 26 Idaho children have been diagnosed with MIS-C due to COVID.
McGeachin said that her office didn’t notify school districts that the executive order was coming, saying she didn’t receive word she would be acting governor until earlier this week. She also said she hoped Little would uphold the executive order.
“My hope is that he will honor it and recognize that we’re kind of beyond that point and more people have been vaccinated,” she said.
Marissa Morrison Hyer, Little’s press secretary, said McGeachin did not notify Little that the order was coming.
“Governor Little has been out of state this week collaborating with other Republican governors, and the Lt. Governor did not make Governor Little aware of her executive order ahead of time. He is expected to return to Idaho tonight,” she wrote. “The Governor’s Office is reviewing the Lt. Governor’s executive order.”
“Governor Little has never put in place a statewide mask mandate,” Morrison Hyer continued. “Throughout the pandemic, Governor Little has been committed to protecting the health and safety of the people of Idaho and has emphasized the importance of Idahoans choosing to protect our neighbors and loved ones and keeping our economy and schools open. Idahoans value local control and the local approach to addressing important issues. An expanded statement from the Governor’s Office on the Lt. Governor’s executive order will be made available after a more thorough review of this executive action.”
Idaho Reports has requested comment from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and various school districts around the state.
During the legislative session, bill to ban mask mandates passed the House, but didn’t get a hearing in the Senate. McGeachin pointed to those efforts as another reason she issued the order.
“It passed the House 47-22 with one absent, so that’s a pretty strong vote in the House of Representatives,” McGeachin said.
McGeachin announced last week she is running for governor in 2022. Little hasn’t yet announced his campaign for reelection, but has submitted paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office for the election.
Idaho Reports will update with more information throughout the day.