Sunday, January 24, 2021

The sheriff has spoken, and the community supports him

Staff Writer | January 13, 2021 1:06 AM

Sheriff Robert "Bob" Norris' stance of no-enforcement came as no shock to Kootenai County residents, and for many, it was a position they supported.

Just hours after Norris' swearing-in ceremony Monday morning, the official announced the department's intent not to enforce public health mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of his stance, according to Monday's media release, was that "there is no provision in our Constitution that suspends people's rights during a 'declared emergency.'"

The right most commonly identified by citizens, like Shane Bunting, 28, was the right not to wear a face covering.

"People talk a lot about choice. I think what they are against, and what I am against is the force. Forcing someone to put a mask on," Bunting said. "I know about my constitutional rights, and (the Sheriff) is right about that."

Shane and Anne Bunting, 53, were both wearing masks on Tuesday as they took a break in the Silver Lake Mall. Anne wears a mask because she is one of the at-risk population, but she said she agrees with Shane that there shouldn't be a law mandating masks.

As noted in Norris' statement, he said that "certain risk groups should take extra precautions, but the vast majority of healthy people who contract COVID-19 will experience flu symptoms and recover from the virus." The Buntings agreed.

"I've worked with several people that have had it and said it was like what the sheriff said — the flu," Shane said. "Some people have health problems, so they should probably wear a mask, but other people that are healthy shouldn't have to."

Coeur d'Alene resident Kaleigh Osborn, 19, disagreed, however. While she felt people should wear the masks independently, people aren't contributing to Kootenai County's increasing case rate.

"People aren't wearing masks because they made it a political thing instead of understanding it is a mandate," she said. "Stuff like this matters, and it isn't one side against another. It's about people's health."

Osborn also disagreed that it only affects vulnerable populations like the elderly or those with underlying health conditions. She's kept up to date, watching other counties' cases go down, but feels the lack of adherence to the mandate is leaving Kootenai County trailing behind.

"It can affect everyone, and there have been healthy people that have died from COVID," Osburn said. "In my opinion, if everyone wore a mask, this pandemic would go down."

Politics is part of the reason Francisco Aponte, 60, moved to Kootenai County from Reno two years ago. He supports Norris for his perspective, but also because of his position as the sheriff.

"The sheriff is the highest authority in a county, so it is up to him to enforce laws that, according to the constitution, he has to know whether or not they are lawful and if they infringe on our rights," Aponte said.

Aponte currently works at the Silver Lake Mall, which asks all its employees and customers to wear a mask respectfully. So Aponte does, even though he believes the majority of face covers the public wears are pointless, and COVID-19 is a glorified cold.

"People believe that this is going to protect me from someone, but I don't think so. It just doesn't make sense. They don't do anything," Aponte said. "To me, this is just a cold. It's a flu that they weaponized."

Since the first mandate by the Panhandle Health District last summer, KCSO, under the guidance of former-Sheriff Ben Wolfinger, maintained the position of education rather than enforcement for the mandated provisions. Similarly, KCSO Lt. Ryan Higgins said the department has no intentions of issuing citations or arrests concerning the mandate.

While Norris's statement takes an open stance to the community, Calle Borgman, 44, noted, it doesn't change much than before.

"It's a good gesture, it doesn't mean much, but it's a good gesture," she said. "The sheriff's office was never enforcing the mandate, which realistically they should be anyway."

A Post Falls resident, Borgman felt it was more up to private businesses to ask the public to wear masks. She has seen how gathering limitations and reduced capacity seating has affected stores and restaurants around the community. Borgman said enforcing the mandate and cracking down on those commercial outlets would only divide the community more.

"People should respect each other and respect what others won't," she said. "I think that's what the sheriff meant when he said it wasn't his job to dictate how a business does business. He is honestly just saying it is not his obligation."


Shane and Anne Bunting both wore masks on Tuesday as they took a break in the Silver Lake Mall to discuss their support of Sheriff Bob Norris' anti-enforcement statement on health mandates. (MADISON HARDY/Press)


Francisco Aponte, 60, moved to Kootenai County from Reno two years ago and said he supports Norris for his perspective and his responsibility to uphold the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. (MADISON HARDY/Press)