More than two months after Boise lifted requirements to wear face masks to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the city announced Tuesday that face coverings are again mandated inside all city facilities.
The new requirement applies even to those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and it will go into effect Wednesday. The buildings affected include Boise City Hall, all city libraries, city offices and all city recreation facilities.
Mayor Lauren McLean’s chief of staff, Courtney Washburn, said in a written statement Tuesday that the new requirements are to protect city employees and the public from possible infection.
“The health and safety of our employees and residents is always our top priority,” Washburn said. “Wearing masks is a proven way to stop the spread of COVID-19, and until there is a higher vaccine rate and fewer positive COVID-19 cases in Ada County, this step is necessary to protect our team and our residents who rely on the services the city provides.”
The city lifted requirements for people to wear masks indoors and in outdoor public spaces in May, with McLean citing a decrease in cases and a chance to return to some semblance of normal. That mask mandate had been in place since July 2020 before being lifted.
McLean had faced intense criticism from some for requiring masks; protests against the ordinance were organized soon after the city announced it, and then continued. Protesters even burned masks in a March demonstration held outside the Idaho Capitol.
The mayor, however, has maintained that masks helped the city withstand the worst of the pandemic, which so far has killed more than 2,000 Idahoans.
“It was a game changer for the city that Boiseans were willing to do what we needed to do to protect public health,” McLean told the Statesman in May.
However, the number of cases across the country and in Idaho has soared in recent weeks, and on Tuesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance regarding masks in places where virus transmission is “substantial or high.”
Most Idaho counties fit this description, with Ada County alone seeing 472 total cases last week, according to state data.
In a statement posted on Twitter on Tuesday, McLean encouraged Boiseans to get vaccinated, wear masks and socially distance when possible.
A spokesperson for the city of Meridian told the Idaho Statesman on Tuesday that officials would review CDC guidance, but would not be issuing new restrictions at this time. The city of Nampa also will not issue new restrictions, a spokesperson said.
Central District Health, which has jurisdiction over Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties, issued a news release Tuesday supporting the CDC’s new guidance for indoor public spaces.
“Wearing a mask, along with physical distancing, and choosing to get vaccinated for COVID-19 continue to be our best defense in this pandemic,” the CDH news release stated.