Idaho health board’s virtual coronavirus meeting derailed by protests outside members’ homes

Idaho’s Central District Health Board postponed a virtual meeting Tuesday night over “safety concerns” when demonstrators protesting proposed coronavirus restrictions gathered at Central District Health’s Boise headquarters and two board members’ homes, Central District Health said in a press release.

The board would have voted on a districtwide public health order that would, among other provisions, require residents of Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties to wear masks when they are unable to keep a six-foot distance from people who are not members of their households.

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Boise Police were already present at Central District Health headquarters “in anticipation of a large-scale protest” after the order received more than 3,000 written public comments between Dec. 4 and Dec. 7, Central District Health said in a press release.

Board member Dr. Ted Epperly told the Idaho Statesman that about 15 people were “beating garbage cans and flashing strobe lights through my windows. Two came up and knocked on my door during the meeting.”

Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo left the virtual meeting to return to her house, where her son was home alone and demonstrators were “banging outside the door,” she said.

“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,” Russ Duke, District Director for Central District Health, said in a statement.

Duke said Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee requested the meeting be cut off, the Idaho Statesman reported.

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Police arrested one woman at the Central District Health building after officers said she refused to follow CDH rules. The police department also released a statement saying officers were seeking arrest warrants on suspicion of disturbing the peace for some of the protesters who went to board members’ homes.

Video uploaded to Facebook by one of the protesters outside of Lachiondo’s home showed a small group of armed protesters banging on buckets, using air horns, playing loud siren and other noises and screaming on the sidewalk.

Lachiondo later posted a statement on her Twitter account, saying her family was fine and thanking the police for their help.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, weighed in on the demonstrations on Tuesday night.

“The actions of protestors at the private residences of public officials is reprehensible,” he wrote on Twitter. “It is nothing more than a bullying tactic that seeks to silence. Our right to free speech should not be used to intimidate and scare others.”

Last week, regional hospital officials warned that they were so overwhelmed by high numbers of coronavirus patients — and by health care staffers unable to work because they are sick — that the state could be forced to implement “crisis standards of care” within the next month. Crisis standards of care are designed to ensure that the patients most likely to survive COVID-19 are given access to potentially life-saving treatment when there isn’t enough to go around.

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The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports that at least 113,905 Idaho residents have been infected with the virus so far, including 2,012 new cases reported on Tuesday. So far at least 1,074 residents have died from COVID-19.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.