While Governor Is Away, Idaho Lt. Governor Issues Order Banning All Mask Mandates For Schools
BY KELCIE MOSELEY-MORRIS / Idaho Capital Sun
Originally published May 27, 2021 by the Idaho Capital Sun
While acting as governor in Gov. Brad Little’s absence on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin issued an executive order prohibiting mask mandates issued by the state or its “political subdivisions,” including public schools, counties, cities and public health districts. It also extends to state boards, commissions, departments and divisions.
The order is effective as of 11 a.m.
Little’s press secretary, Marissa Morrison Hyer, told the Idaho Capital Sun via email that the governor is out of the state collaborating with other state governors, but he will be back Thursday evening.
“The lieutenant governor did not make Gov. Little aware of her executive order ahead of time,” Morrison Hyer said.
The governor’s office is reviewing the order, she said. An expanded statement from the governor’s office on the executive order will be made available after it is reviewed, according to Morrison Hyer.
“Throughout the pandemic, Gov. 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,” she said. “Idahoans value local control and the local approach to addressing important issues.”
The order states individuals cannot be mandated to use a face mask, face shield or other face covering for the purpose of preventing or slowing the spread of a contagious or infectious disease. It cites serious concerns raised about “both short-term and long-term negative effects caused by wearing masks,” but does not cite what those effects would be. Medical experts have debunked claims that masks are harmful to a person’s health.
What about the mask requirement for long-term care facilities?
The language of the order appears to lift the requirement for people to wear face coverings when entering long-term care facilities. That requirement is in place under Stage 4 of Little’s reopening plan.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines recently that say people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks. However, those without the vaccine are still advised to wear face coverings to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.
The CDC specifically exempts health care settings from the relaxed guidelines.
McGeachin’s order says the word “state” does not include federal buildings, hospitals or health care facilities. However, because the “state” is the entity barred from requiring masks, the order may effectively remove the mask requirements in state-regulated health care facilities.
McGeachin’s staff did not respond to queries from the Sun about the order, and whether it removes the mask requirement in long-term care facilities.
The Sun asked the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare if the order would remove the mask requirement. The department directed the query to Little’s staff, who directed any questions about McGeachin’s order to McGeachin’s office.
COVID-19 has killed hundreds of Idahoans in nursing homes, residential assisted living and group homes. People in those kinds of facilities have been most vulnerable to the virus nationwide.
Nursing homes and hospitals are held to federal regulations, while residential assisted living facilities and group homes for people with disabilities are state regulated. However, even the state-regulated centers must meet certain federal standards to receive funds from Medicaid, which is how 65% to 68% of residents pay for their care.
“We would hope that the state wouldn’t put us in that position,” Idaho Health Care Association Executive Director Robert Vande Merwe told the Sun.
The residents at these facilities are among the most vulnerable, “and we don’t know which staff and which visitors haven’t been vaccinated,” he said. “We’ve been told to still be ultra-cautious.”
Is the executive order legally valid?
Title 67 of Idaho Code grants the acting governor the same power and duties as the governor in his absence. In 2019, as acting governor, McGeachin presided over a Real III Percent rally in Boise and administered an oath to the attendees to defend the U.S. Constitution.
Idaho code also gives local governments, school boards and public health boards their own set of powers when it comes to protecting the public.
School boards have a duty “to protect the morals and health of the pupils.” Public health boards have the power to “pass all ordinances and make all regulations necessary to preserve the public health.” And cities have enforcement power when it comes to those public health regulations.
Gov. Little has not issued a statewide mask mandate throughout the pandemic, and many other public entities, such as the cities of Boise and Pocatello, have removed the requirement to wear masks in public spaces as COVID-19 case numbers continue to trend downward. West Ada and Boise school districts are two examples of public entities that still have mandates in place.
West Ada School District sent an email Thursday afternoon stating it is not the district’s practice to change operations in the middle of a school day, and masks would remain in place through the day. District officials added they are consulting with legal counsel regarding the school board’s statutory authority to enforce certain health and safety protocols for students.
Three schools in the Coeur d’Alene School District earlier this month instituted temporary mask mandates due to a spike COVID-19 clusters there.
McGeachin has announced she intends to run for governor in the 2022 Republican primary. Little has not announced his intentions for the election.
Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: [email protected] Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.