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Sheriff: KCSO won’t enforce mask mandate

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Hagadone News Network | January 16, 2021 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris said his department will not enforce public health mandates meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

"Enforcing criminal sanctions on otherwise law-abiding people goes against the fundamental principles of the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions," he said in a statement released Monday.

Norris said his office won’t “enforce dictates on healthy citizens.”

“It is my opinion that the facts are becoming clear with COVID 19 — certain risk groups should take extra precautions, but the vast majority of healthy people who contract COVID-19 will experience flu symptoms and recover,” said Norris, who was sworn in on Jan. 1.

The sheriff’s office is not responsible for counting how many people are in a home, monitoring private businesses and “will never interfere with religious gatherings,” Norris said.

“It is not law enforcement’s job to get between you, your health and your doctor,” Norris said. “Period.”

With some exceptions, a mandate passed by the Panhandle Health District Board in November states that those in its jurisdiction must wear a face covering when in public and when physical distance can’t be maintained.

“We’re not going to give someone a citation or an arrest because of a mandate that PHD issued,” Lt. Ryan Higgins told The Press.

Idaho Code §39-414(2) states that Idaho’s public health districts shall “do all things required for the preservation and protection of the public health and preventative health.”

Norris does not believe PHD has the authority to issue a mask mandate, Higgins said.

“That’s what’s in contention,” he said. “That’s his stance.”

Idaho is in Stage 2 of reopening, which allows restaurants and churches to operate with COVID-19 protocols in place. Public and private gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited.

Kootenai County’s Comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan outlines how law enforcement, fire service, hospitals and other entities respond to different kinds of emergency, including pandemic disease.

Last updated in November 2018, the plan states that KCSO’s responsibilities include enforcing isolation or quarantine orders issued by PHD.

However, Higgins said, the plan was made under a previous administration.

Emergency Management Director Tiffany Westbrook said the comprehensive plan is reviewed annually and updated every five years with the input of all agencies involved.

“Regardless of the changing of the guard, it’s pretty straightforward with who is responsible to do what,” she said. “That doesn’t change based on elected officials.”

Westbrook noted that PHD is the lead agency responsible for coordinating the response to infectious disease.

“If there’s something they need help with, we’ll step up to the plate and assist how we can,” Westbrook said.

KCSO is identified as a support organization.

Katherine Hoyer, PHD spokesperson, declined to comment on the sheriff’s statement.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted in droplets that come from the nose and mouth of an infected person, according to PHD.

Masks that cover the mouth and nose create a barrier that helps keep droplets that contain germs and viruses from spreading to others, similar to covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue, according to PHD.

More than 150,000 Idahoans have contracted COVID-19, including almost 1,300 cases over the weekend. More than 1,500 people in Idaho have died of coronavirus-related illnesses since March, according to the state's coronavirus website.

Norris said the KCSO trusts citizens to assess their own risks and take the necessary precautions.

"My job as sheriff is first and foremost to secure and protect the safety and rights of our citizens," he said. "The men and women of the KCSO will continue to keep the peace and foster a strong and vibrant relationship within the community."