Idaho health board cancels coronavirus vote after anti-maskers swarmed officials’ homes
A visibly upset Lachiondo then disconnected from the video call, leaving her colleagues at the meeting stunned. They soon learned that protesters had gathered outside the Central District Health office and one other board member’s residence as well, targeting the public officials who were meeting virtually from their homes and private offices as a precaution amid the worsening pandemic.
“I’m a father and that’s just unbelievable,” David Peterman, a doctor who had been giving an update on the status of the coronavirus pandemic, said after Lachiondo left the meeting.
Hundreds of anti-mask demonstrators poured out to protest a public health order that would have limited gathering to fewer than 10 people and required face masks be worn in public and private around non-household members when social distancing is not possible, among other restrictions. More than 3,000 public comments had been submitted on the order between Friday and Monday, the health district said in a statement. The health district board was set to vote on the order Tuesday evening.
The Idaho Statesman first reported the abruptly terminated public meeting a short time after it ended on Tuesday.
Police formed a barrier between Tuesday’s protesters and the Central District Health building as a precaution following a tense meeting last week. On Friday, when the health board met but decided to delay a vote on the public health order, anti-mask demonstrators tried to force their way into the building. No one was arrested.
The protests on Friday and Tuesday were organized by a multistate network of right-wing activists called People’s Rights. The group was founded by Ammon Bundy, a vocal anti-masker and anti-government activist who gained national attention as part of the 2016 standoff between Patriot movement activists and federal police at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Bundy was arrested in August at the Idaho Capitol after tying himself to a chair and refusing to leave amid an anti-mask protest.
The group urged its followers to send emails to the Central District Health’s Board of Health members and to show up to protest “BIGGER, STRONGER, and LOUDER” on Tuesday night.
A smaller group of counterprotesters also showed up Tuesday at the Central District Health to support the covid-19 restrictions, displaying signs that detailed how many Idahoans have fallen ill and died in the pandemic already.
Fewer than 15 minutes after Tuesday’s meeting began, Boise police and Mayor Lauren McLean (D) requested that the board cancel it, citing safety concerns for police, staff and board members who were dealing with protesters on their doorsteps. McLean condemned the demonstrators, who she said did not come from the local counties that the health board represents.
“Our officers were asked to respond to people from outside our community whose purpose here was to disrupt local government in action, to intimidate their families,” McLean said in a statement Tuesday night. “This is not ok. Let me be clear: we will hold offenders accountable.”
A Central District Health employee placed one protester under citizen’s arrest for trespassing, and Boise police took custody of the individual a short time later, police said in a statement. That person, who was not named by officials, was booked at the Ada County Jail, police added.
In addition to swarming Lachiondo’s home, protesters also showed up at board member Ted Epperly’s house. Epperly, a physician in Ada County, said about 15 people were still outside his home as other members moved to adjourn the meeting early. He told the Statesman the small crowd banged garbage cans, flashed strobe lights through his windows and knocked on his door as the virtual meeting unfolded.
“Sadly,” he told his fellow board members during the last minutes of the video call, “It is not under control at my house and it’s not under control at Diana’s house.”
Just before 7 p.m. Tuesday, Lachiondo tweeted that she and her son were safe.
“Update: We are fine,” she said. “Thanks all for your concern and especially @BoisePD for your help.”
Idaho has reported more than 111,800 coronavirus cases and at least 1,055 deaths since late February, but those numbers have been rising more rapidly in recent weeks than in earlier phases of the pandemic. The state broke the record for its seven-day rolling average of new daily coronavirus cases on Tuesday. The counties around the state’s capital have been hammered by the pandemic in recent weeks and Boise-area hospitals may be forced to ration care by New Year’s Day if cases continue to rise, the Statesman reported.
“Our community is being severely impacted by this virus and our team members and board are working tirelessly to protect our community’s health,” Russ Duke, district director for Central District Health, said in a statement Tuesday night. “We simply ask that those who may disagree with these difficult discussion points and decisions do so in a way that is respectful and does not endanger our staff, board of health members, and our law enforcement, all who are critical in this response.”
Coronavirus restrictions have been a lightning rod for controversy in Idaho, where elected officials have publicly warred over pandemic rules.
Even as local officials and the governor have tried to implement public health restrictions, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R) opposed those limits in an October video where she praised “defending life and liberty” with a gun and Bible in hand. Some coronavirus skeptics in the state have gone so far as to falsely claim the pandemic “may or may not be occurring.”
The Central District Health’s vote on a new public health order aimed at beating back coronavirus infections was delayed on Tuesday to an unspecified date. Meanwhile, Boise’s mayor said the demonstrators crossed a line by showing up at board members’ homes and intimidating their families.
“No child should be frightened by a mob of protesters,” McLean said, “No local official should fear violence for their public service.”
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