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Ruehle’s rule: Ordinance proposed to mandate masks in Sandpoint

Staff Writer | August 14, 2020 10:58 PM

SANDPOINT — The chambers are quiet, but controversy on mandating masks in the city has reached an all-time high.

An ordinance to enact a mask mandate within Sandpoint city limits was proposed by Councilwoman Deb Ruehle and will be voted on at the Aug. 19 meeting. If passed, this ordinance would give Mayor Shelby Rognstad the authority to issue a public health emergency order mandating social distancing and a mask mandate as outlined in the proposed ordinance, according to the Aug. 14 agenda report.

Although Ruehle’s motion to mandate masks died on the table at the July 15 meeting, she has come back with persistence and paperwork. Dozens of pages on community-wide research regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and public health recommendations were included in her submission to the city.

Documents include a notice on Kootenai Health’s policy to mandate masks for all employees. patients, and visitors in hospitals and clinics.

“As health care leaders, Kootenai Health staff and physicians have dedicated thousands of hours to understanding, preparing for and caring for those affected by COVID-19,” the press release said. “It is Kootenai Health’s position that everyone should wear a protective facemask when out in public.”

Association of American Medical Colleges said the reinforcement of prevention measures such as wearing face coverings is essential. “One such study by the CDC found that of the 1,000 infected service members on the Navy ship U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, one in five had no symptoms and many had mild symptoms,” AAMC wrote in a statement.

Other research emphasized common arguments heard in past city council meetings, such as protecting vulnerable populations, preventing overloading the health care system and reducing contact with respiratory droplets.

In addition to thorough research, Ruehle has received support from local nurse practitioners, including NPI District 1 Representative Cynthia Dalsing who is a part of the Nurse Practitioners of Idaho, an organization for nurse practitioners in the five northern counties.

“I want you to know that NPs are concerned for the health of our community and want to be proactive in trying to keep people safe,” Dalsing said in a letter to Mayor Shelby Rognstad on July 20.

All 30 nurse practitioners in Sandpoint are in support of Ruehle’s proposed ordinance. When 45-year-old mother Samantha Hickey, a nurse practitioner in Caldwell, died working at St. Luke’s Children’s Pediatrics from COVID-19 complications, many healthcare professionals felt the need to take action.

“We can’t wait until our medical providers are sick to take action,” Dalsing said. “What would we do without them? I talked to a nurse practitioner from our board this week who had seen 15 patients that day for COVID-19 symptoms.”

For weeks nurse practitioners have joined Ruehle on the mask movement in Sandpoint and encouraged business owners to practice the 3 Ws — wear a mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands. They handed out 60 baskets of protective personal equipment to local businesses, which included masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and a poster on the 3 Ws.

Nancy Gerth, a friend of nurse practitioners, has been an active participant in the basket distribution. She said 58 out of the 60 businesses accepted the baskets and were grateful for the supplies.

“We have been lucky so far, but our little hospital doesn’t have enough resources,” Gerth said, regarding Sandpoint’s low COVID-19 community transmission rates.

Although no other council members supported Ruehle on her mission to mandate masks in the community last month, council members have continued to practice social distancing in the chambers. Mayor Shelby Rognstad has also worn a mask at the last two meetings, along with other city staff.

Under municipal code, Ruehle’s proposed ordinance must describe the temporary public health emergency order, the process for enacting the temporary public health emergency order, provide exclusions, provide an end date and an effective date upon proclamation.

Full text of the proposed ordinance can be found at Sandpoint City Hall.