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Idaho health official leaves meeting after anti-mask protesters surround home

An emotional Idaho health official had to abruptly leave a Zoom meeting during a vote on a local mask mandate after her 12-year-old son called to say dozens of armed anti-mask protesters had surrounded their home and were banging on the door. 

Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo tearfully interrupted the Central District Health’s online board meeting on Tuesday night, saying that the anti-mask protesters were outside her home. 

Lachiondo, who was at her office at the Ada County Courthouse, initially excused herself so she could call police. 

She interrupted again just moments later saying she had to rush home to be with her son.  

‘My 12-year-old son is home by himself right now and there are protesters banging outside the door,’ she said.  

‘I’m going to go home and make sure he’s okay.’

Another board member, family physician Dr Ted Epperly, told the meeting that protests were ‘not under control at my house’ either. 

Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo (top right) tearfully interrupted the Central District Health’s online board meeting on Tuesday night, saying that the anti-mask protesters were outside her home

The Boise Police Department later confirmed that anti-mask protesters had gathered outside at least three board members’ homes, as well as the health department building, while the meeting was underway. 

The group of armed protesters gathered outside Lachiondo’s home were banging on buckets, using air horns, playing loud sirens and other noises and screaming on the sidewalk.

Lachiondo, who was at her office at the Ada County Courthouse, initially excused herself so she could call police. She interrupted again just moments later saying she had to rush home to be with her son

Lachiondo, who was at her office at the Ada County Courthouse, initially excused herself so she could call police. She interrupted again just moments later saying she had to rush home to be with her son

The board had been expected to vote on a four-county mask mandate in Idaho’s most populated region. 

Public health officials abruptly ended the meeting soon after Lachiondo left to rush home. 

The decision to end the meeting came after Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and the Boise Police Department chief both said the intense protests, outside the health department building and board members’ homes, were threatening public safety. 

Central District Health Director Russ Duke interrupted the meeting to inform board members of the mayor’s request.

‘I got a call from the mayor. 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. 

The Boise Police Department later issued a statement on Twitter that said they requested the 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,’ the department wrote. 

The Boise Police Department later confirmed that anti-mask protesters had gathered outside at least three board members' homes, as well as the health department building (above), while the meeting was underway

The Boise Police Department later confirmed that anti-mask protesters had gathered outside at least three board members’ homes, as well as the health department building (above), while the meeting was underway 

Boise police were forced to create a barrier to keep anti-mask protesters from entering a meeting at the Central District Health offices on Tuesday

Boise police were forced to create a barrier to keep anti-mask protesters from entering a meeting at the Central District Health offices on Tuesday

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. 

Lachiondo later addressed the controversy in a series of tweets, saying the protesters were accusing her of ‘tyranny and cowering inside’.

‘I wasn’t actually inside the house: I was calling in from my office at the Ada County Courthouse. But my two young sons and my mother (who was out taking our dog on a short walk) were. And as many of you saw last night, my son called me in tears at the beginning of the meeting.

‘I am sad. I am tired. I fear that, in my choosing to hold public office, my family has too-often paid the price. Though I was born and raised in Idaho, I increasingly don’t recognize this place. 

‘There is an ugliness and cruelty in our national rhetoric that is reaching a fevered pitch here at home, and that should worry us all. And, above all, I am terrified about the virus’s current trajectory.’ 

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has repeatedly urged Idahoans to wear masks but has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, instead leaving that decision in the hands of the regional health boards. 

He condemned the protestors’ actions at the board members’ homes.

‘The actions of protestors at the private residences of public officials is reprehensible. 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,’ Little tweeted. 

‘There is no place for this behavior in Idaho. I urge calm among Idahoans so we can get through the pandemic together, stronger.’  

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. 

The governor declined to answer when The Associated Press asked if he still felt it was appropriate to leave contentious decisions on mask mandates in the hands of the local boards, which are made up largely of non-medical professionals.

Instead, Little’s spokeswoman Emily Callihan said Little ‘will continue to support those local leaders who, in consultation with medical experts, make tough decisions to protect our citizens against COVID-19.’

She also pointed out the governor’s statewide orders that require physical distancing at gatherings, limit public and private gatherings to 10 people (except for religious or political events), require patrons to be seated at bars and restaurants and require masks at long term-care facilities. 

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.

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.   


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