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Mask protest planned at Sandpoint Library

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | March 27, 2021 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — Masks are still required to enter East Bonner County Library District buildings.

While the Panhandle Health District board voted to immediately rescind a mask mandate in the five northernmost counties, EBCL Director Ann Nichols said the library district's mask policy will continue and will be upheld. She added the district is aware of a protest planned for Saturday.

"We will be upholding the mask policy," Nichols told the Daily Bee. "No one is to enter the library without a mask. We want to keep all patrons and staff safe and healthy. We are helping to assure everyone their right to health."

A similar protest was held in late July 2020, with about a half-dozen adults and children attempting to enter the library without facilitating coverings. Two staff members barred the group from entering by blocking the doors into the library.

Adults in the group then proceeded to argue with the staff members over the legality of the mask requirement. They were also warned that they could be trespassed from the premises if they continued to cause a disturbance in the lobby.

The PHD board voted Thursday 5-2 to end its mandate on facial coverings, two months into a 90-day mandate, implemented in late January.

In moving to end the mandate, board member Allen Banks of Bonner County said it was time to end "this silly mask mandate and let our people get back to normal lives."

However, the board's two medical professionals, nurse Jai Nelson and Dr. Richard McLandress, both of Kootenai County, voted against rescinding the mandate, saying the risk from the virus remains. They argued that masks continue to be effective tools in the battle against COVID-19.

The library enacted its mask policy in May 2019 as part of a comprehensive approach to the pandemic and to minimize risk to staff and patrons. As part of the policy, face coverings and six-foot social distancing are required. Also, there is a limit of one person or family in the Bookmobile at a time and, while all EBCL libraries are open under normal hours, the library's website notes that could change if COVID-19 cases were to increase.

Word of the planned peaceful protest of the library's mask requirement spread on social media over the past few days. Set for 1 p.m. Saturday, a post shared with the Daily Bee said those interested are to meet outside the library and enter together.

"Then, quietly and without fanfare, use the library like regular people on a regular day," the post said. "No one is to be rowdy or rude as that could be considered disturbing the peace, and because we're nice people. This will be a family-friendly event."

Nichols said EBCL officials learned of the protest but said the mask requirement would remain in place. For those not wishing to wear masks, library staff offer curbside service, and the district has more electronic materials that can be viewed in real time or at the patron's leisure.

Nichols said the policy is designed to keep staff and patrons from getting sick.

"We are not making a political statement with masking - it is just a health precaution," she said. "We have many people who use the library who are very grateful that we require masks. No one wants to get sick."

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