Friday, August 07, 2020

Unmasking Idaho

Staff Writer | July 16, 2020 1:06 AM

Study finds state a leader in anti-mask tweets

If Twitter is any indication, Idaho’s voices against the wearing of masks in the age of the coronavirus pandemic are among the loudest.

In a study that cross-referenced the social media platform’s geotag information with certain hashtags, Idaho ranks fourth in the nation for most anti-mask tweets, trailing only Florida, Nevada and top-ranked Arizona.

The study, conducted by the survival website “Survival At Home,” followed a series of anti-mask hashtags — including #nomask, #iwillnotcomply and #burnyourmask — over the past 30 days. The metadata collected from those 150,000 tweets were then targeted by location and separated by state. While the study did not give exact numbers of the anti-mask tweets sent from the Gem State, local sentiment has echoed the survivalist marketplace’s findings.

The study comes as COVID-19 has transformed masks from a benign piece of personal protective equipment into a political lightning rod. Despite repeated urgings from Panhandle Health District, Kootenai Health, and Gov. Brad Little, many Idahoans either neglect to, forget to or flat-out refuse to wear masks.

Coeur d’Alene Councilwoman Kiki Miller said she was baffled by the resistance.

“Personally, I have as many opinions as everyone else,” she said. “There are multiple reasons why people don’t want to wear masks, whether it’s a political belief or health issue or people just not taking it seriously. I don’t know why. What I do know is, I don’t want to see our community set back a stage because we’re not doing what we can to protect one another.”

Both nationwide and locally, resistance against masks has stemmed from both individual chants and organized claims. The Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, for example, shared a link from a Christian satire site, quoting the Babylon Bee with a scathing rebuttal.

“‘Scientists,’” the tweet quoted, “‘in a groundbreaking research study, have discovered that anyone who makes a different decision on wearing a mask than you is a sheep.’ (Sarcasm intended.)”

Casey Whalen, a local activist behind the watchdog group North Idaho Exposed, has voiced his opposition to the mask movement, saying the masks infringe on Americans’ rights.

“I am personally (against them), sure,” Whalen said. “No one can dictate to me or you what to do for you and your family. This is a red line for a lot of people. If people are really concerned, stay home. Order online and live your life that way.”

Whalen, who was turned away from the Kootenai County Courthouse Tuesday for not wearing a mask to a scheduled appearance in which he was to answer charges of illegally removing COVID-related signage at Honeysuckle Beach during the early days of the pandemic, said whatever side you’re on, resistance to authority is a natural human response.

“Ultimately,” Whalen said, “it goes to the root of the problem for many people who value their rights. Nobody has authority over anybody else to tell someone to wear a mask. We’ve seen a gradual degradation of rights.”

The four stages in Little’s Rebound Idaho plan were set to expire June 30, but increases in COVID-19 cases have the stages’ health protocols in place for businesses across Idaho. Little has rolled back parts of the state — including Ada County — as community spread has worsened.

“One’s too many,” Little said about the state’s death toll. “Our fatality rate is something we’re very concerned about. We do know, from the statistics that we’ve got, that it’s mainly in the at-risk population. The demographics of people who have passed away (are) in that older, more susceptible population.”

Little has said in the past he has no intention of issuing a mandate requiring the wearing of masks in public — such as the mandate handed down in neighboring Washington by Gov. Jay Inslee — adding that enforcement would border on impossible.

PHD has agreed and said it is not asking for a mask mandate, but continues to urge people to wear them.

The issue isn’t likely to die anytime soon. Some stores around the county have already been requesting that customers wear masks, while others have upgraded that request to a requirement for patrons who enter.

Costco adopted a mask policy months ago. The most recent requirement came Wednesday morning, when Walmart said in a release it was requiring customers nationwide to wear a mask, starting July 20. The retail giant added it will post employees — which the company is calling “health ambassadors” at the front doors to enforce the new policy.

“Our ambassadors will receive special training to help make the process as smooth as possible for customers,” the company said in a statement. “The ambassadors, identifiable by their black polo shirts, will work with customers who show up at a store without a face covering to try and find a solution.”

Kroger, the parent company of Fred Meyer and the largest supermarket grocery chain, said Wednesday it will implement a mask requirement, as well, starting July 22.

“We are taking this extra step now,” Kroger said in a statement, “because we recognize additional precautions are needed to protect our country.”