House State Affairs introduces bill to ban mask mandates

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

House State Affairs introduced four new bills on Tuesday morning, including one that could prohibit governmental entities from mandating masks be worn.

Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, brought a similar bill last year, which passed the House but failed to get a hearing in the Senate. 

Should this legislation pass, it would prohibit the state and any political subdivision, such as a county or a school district, from mandating face covering be worn to prevent or slow the spread of infectious disease.

The bill is introduced as three public health districts in Idaho, remain in crisis standards of care. Those three health districts cover 18 counties in southern Idaho. 

The state declares crisis standards when there are more people in need of health care than there are resources available to provide the high levels of care that people are used to receiving. On Monday, Gov. Brad Little activated the Idaho National Guard to assist with COVID-19 crisis.

Hanks told the committee she thought mask-wearing should be optional.

“God formed us with our faces and with our smiles and with the ability to communicate in that manner, and when our faces are covered we, our children, our grandchildren, I totally believe it interferes with our relationship with our ability to communicate with each other,” Hanks said.

She stressed that she believed in bodily autonomy.

“If people were dying in the streets and we felt that a mask would change that, then I believe that we would wear them,” Hanks said.

Since the pandemic began, 4,421 Idahoans have died of COVID-19, as of Monday, and more than 880,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. 

Statewide, the test positivity rate for COVID-19 is at a record-high of 38.8% and some counties are above 50% positive. The goal is to keep the rate below 5%.

As of Tuesday, very few governmental entities in Idaho still had mask mandates in place, and nearly all of those are school districts.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as most medical providers, have repeatedly said the use of well-fitting, high-quality masks can help reduce COVID-19 transmission. 

<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, where she’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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