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Library to shorten hours over COVID

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | August 28, 2020 1:00 AM

The Coeur d’Alene Public Library’s board of trustees voted Wednesday to reduce the hours the Front Street campus will be open after certain patrons repeatedly refused to wear masks.

“We have people coming into the library occasionally and they’re not wearing masks, and they’re refusing to wear masks," said Steve McCrea, chair of the library’s board of trustees. "We have plexiglass shields up, and we’ve taken other measures to protect our employees and our visitors ... But we’ve received a report that the staff is becoming nervous about their own health, and we’re concerned about the health of our other patrons.”

Beginning Monday, hours will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Sunday hours will remain noon to 5 p.m.

The hours Monday through Thursday were 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Lake City Public Library, in the high school on Ramsey Road, is closed due to construction at the school. Its status will be reviewed in the coming weeks as local schools resume, library communications coordinator David Townsend said in a statement.

The library has not had to reduce hours since the beginning of the pandemic, when its services switched to curbside-only. As the state gradually re-opened, so, too, did the library. Masks were not required in the library until Panhandle Health District made its July 23 mandate requiring masks in public spaces. Failing to wear a mask carries with it a $1,000 fine and is a misdemeanor, but peacekeepers across the area have either de-prioritized enforcement or refused to enforce it altogether.

Some members of staff have reported discomfort to the board when confronting certain patrons about not wearing masks, McCrea admitted.

“Our frontline staff, they’re not paid to do this," he said. "It’s not their job to interpret the law. It’s their job to follow the law. And the law says, ‘You have to wear a mask.’”

The mandate does require masks in public spaces, with certain exceptions for those with medical conditions where wearing masks would be detrimental to the person’s health, or where appropriate social distancing can occur. The enforcement of that law, the board voted unanimously, should fall on the police. The board wrote a letter to the city informing them of the situation and requesting the police to respond if library staff members believe confrontations deteriorate.

As for the reduced hours, McCrea said the library will play the matter by ear to determine how long the curtailed operations will last.

“In our deliberations, we thought we should look at the situation in a couple of weeks and see if things got better,” he said. “We’re reducing hours with the hope that it would reduce the number of instances of people refusing to wear masks. We’ll see if that helps, and if that doesn’t, we’ll look at other steps.”

Those other steps could include implementing further reductions or reverting back to curbside-only services.

Troy Tymesen, city administrator, said he is in receipt of the letter, and that the library staff has the support of the police and the city. Tymesen, however, said the reduction of hours — while enabling interim management to always be present on-site — has as much to do with recent foot traffic as providing support. Library documents have noted a decline lately in foot traffic.

“Those reduced hours will give management the ability to handle the needs of some of those more passionate patrons,” he said, “but the decision was more about attendance than anything.”