Latah County Commissioners in their regular meeting Monday voted to require visitors and employees to wear face masks inside county buildings beginning today.

The move specifically applies to the Latah County Courthouse, the Latah County Annex where vehicle licensing among other departments is housed, and the McConnell Mansion, but will not extend to the Latah County Fair, scheduled for Thursday through Sunday in Moscow.

Commissioner Tom Lamar said the mask requirement is a response to the rapidly rising number of new COVID-19 cases in north central Idaho driven by the more infectious delta variant of the disease. Lamar said the county’s emergency operations center recently heard from physicians with Gritman Medical Center who said hospital staff and resources have been strained by the surge.

“It was extremely concerning,” he said. “They’re weary, they’re tired, they’re full (and) they keep getting full.”

Lamar said it’s also the duty of the county to keep its public offices open so they can continue to provide services to county residents, noting the disruption caused by last week’s illness-related closure of the Department of Licensing.

“We’re the only place to get a marriage license, we’re the only place to get a passport and so on … we need to do everything we can to make sure this facility stays open,” Commissioner Dave McGraw said. “Nobody likes masks, I hate them. I don’t like them, nobody likes them, but if they help us to keep our building open through this whole pandemic thing, then I agree we need the mandate within the facility at least.”

Commissioners said part of the reason the mask mandate will not apply to the fair is because it is too soon to apply new restrictions to the event and those in charge of facilities on the fairground have been working hard to keep air circulating through the space.

“We’ve got fans going in the fairgrounds buildings, we have 16-foot doors that are open and letting the air through, so make sure you wear your coat when you come to the fair on the weekend,” Lamar said. “Inside your coat, put a mask in your pocket and put that on when you go in the buildings anyway, and maybe even outside, around people.”

Lamar said masks will still be encouraged at the event and all commissioners joined in urging county residents to get vaccinated if they have not yet — and to stay home if sick.

In other county business Monday, commissioners accepted the resignation letter of Latah County Clerk and Auditor Henrianne Westberg, who said she is retiring for personal reasons. Westberg is nearly three years into her second four-year term as auditor. Commissioners will appoint a replacement for Westberg to serve out the rest of her term.

Jackson can be reached by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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