In Idaho, public health officials were forced to halt a meeting already in progress on Tuesday, after Boise's mayor and chief of police said intense protests outside the health department building, and outside some health officials' homes, had escalated to the point where public safety was at risk.
The protesters don't want to wear masks, or see a mask mandate made law, to slow the coronavirus spread. It's so widespread in Idaho, contact tracers can't keep up. Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare reports 113,905 Idaho residents have been infected, and 2,012 new cases were reported on Tuesday. So far at least 1,074 Idaho residents died from COVID-19.
The request from Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and the Boise Police Department came just a few minutes after one health board member, Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo, tearfully interrupted the online meeting to say she had to rush home from work to be with her son. The board had been expected to vote on a four-county mask mandate in Idaho's most populated region.
"My 12-year-old son is home alone right now and there are protestors banging outside the door," Lachiondo said.
Another board member, family physician Dr. Ted Epperly, said protests were "not under control at my house," as well.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Central District Health parking lot before and during the meeting. The protest at the health building was organized, at least in part, by a loose multi-state group called People's Rights. The group was created by Ammon Bundy, an outspoken opponent of mask mandates during the coronavirus pandemic who gained national attention and stoked the so-called "patriot movement" after leading armed standoffs at his father's Nevada ranch in 2014 and at a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon in 2016. Members of an anti-vaccination group called Health Freedom Idaho also attended the protest. It wasn't immediately known if Bundy attended the Boise protests Tuesday evening.
Central District Health Director Russ Duke interrupted the Tuesday meeting to inform board members of the mayor's request.
"I got a call from the mayor, and it sounds like the police, and she is requesting that we stop the meeting at this time because of the intense level of protesters in the parking lot and concern for police safety and staff safety as well as the protesters that are at some of our board members' homes right now," Duke said.
Boise Police said on Twitter later Tuesday they asked the meeting to adjourn "in the interest of public safety."
BPD requested the @CDHidaho meeting adjourn in the interest of public safety. Our first priority is to maintain safety and public order. Officers are currently monitoring the crowd and responding to reports of additional incidents in the city. CDH trespassed 1 person from inside. Officers attempted to gain voluntary compliance, the subject refused to leave and was placed under arrest by a rep of CDH for misdemeanor trespassing. BPD took custody of the citizen's arrest and took the subject to the Ada County Jail.
Idaho health board meeting halted after 'intense protests' (REBECCA BOONE, AP)