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'Kids are dying': Pro and anti-mask protesters clash at Coeur d'Alene school board meeting

The Coeur d'Alene School Board decided there will be no masks, no contact tracing and no enforcement of quarantines this school year.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — At a school board meeting Thursday evening, community members yelled, pleaded and spoke up about issues bothering them within the Coeur d'Alene School District. These types of events seem to inspire a lot of passion but this meeting was different. 

School is heading back into session all over the Inland Northwest, with CDA starting next week. It's not unique to that district, protests have been erupting all over the nation regarding mask mandates. 

The Board decided on three major COVID-19 protocols for the school year. They include no masks, no contact tracing and no enforcing quarantines. This is in stark contrast to Washington school districts, which have the opposite protocols in place. Anti-mask protestors have been rallying against Spokane schools, but pro-mask protestors rallied against Coeur d'Alene on Thursday evening.

"Kids are dying," parent of four Ben Stallings said. "I'm not here for a spectacle but I am here to be a face in the community so people know if they have a differing opinion, there's somebody else that supports them. They aren't alone."

Stallings was one of the pro-mask protestors. Once he started talking to the officials at the public forum, pro-maskers clapped and anti-maskers booed. That would be the theme of the night. 

The Board tried to keep the meeting calm, but after the first few people speaking, it spiraled out of control. 

Some anti-maskers decided to take to the microphone, despite not needing to protest since there is no mask mandate, and yell at the school district for having people wear masks the year before. One man even exclaimed that his daughter suffered severely from needing to wear a mask in class. Science was disputed and condescending remarks were shared from both the anti-maskers, pro-maskers and the Board. 

"I don’t feel that I should be making a decision for the students on what is happening in the community," Board Chair Jen Brumley said, addressing a pro-mask parent concerned about the lack of masking. 

Brumley was a deciding vote to rescind the mask mandate back in April. She had explosive back-and-forth with pro-maskers when they challenged why she said she doesn't think she should make decisions. 

"I'd really love to see the kids stay safe," Stallings said. "And with the Delta variant, it's just getting worse."

Governor Little, the Department of Health and Welfare and doctors across the region say North Idaho has a COVID-19 problem. Dr. Vanessa Carroll, Kootenai Health's Medical Director of Pediatrics, said in a presentation on Tuesday that the hospital does not have a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane has 19 PICU beds, she said.

“We can anticipate from the Coeur d’Alene School District alone approximately 200 children will require hospitalization for COVID-19. About a third of those hospitalized actually need an intensive care, so about 60 are going to need to be admitted to a pediatric intensive care unit or PICU," Carroll said. "...Please be aware that at the very least, you can probably double this number to estimate the number of school-aged children in our county who are unvaccinated and at risk.”

Six children were in critical care at Sacred Heart as of Tuesday due to COVID-19, a spokesperson for Providence said. Caiti Bobbitt, a spokesperson for Kootenai Health, said the hospital is not caring for any pediatric COVID-19 patients as of Thursday but has it has seen "an uptick" in the last few months. The vaccination rate for those between the ages of 12 and 17 in North Idaho is also "extremely low," Bobbitt added.  

Last week, almost 2,100 children in the United States were hospitalized with COVID-19, Carroll said. This is more than a 500% increase since July 2021. A study out of Canada also showed that children testing positive for COVID-19 with the Delta variant are twice as likely to be hospitalized compared to previous variants. One person infected with the Delta variant is now spreading the virus to five to nine people on average, Carroll said, compared to about two-and-a-half people on average with the Alpha variant.

The Coeur d'Alene School District had numerous COVID-19 outbreaks the previous school year, even implementing a mask mandate at one large high school. With the Delta variant now infecting and causing kids to be hospitalized, the school board has doubled down on COVID-19 protocols, but not in the way one may think. 

There will be no masks, no contact tracing, and no enforced quarantines in the Coeur d'Alene School District. That means that if a child is exposed to the virus, parents may never know. 

So what happens if there's a COVID-19 outbreak in the schools? Kootenai Health said with the hospital's capacity being stressed, they will not be able to accommodate the influx of cases. 

"Trust the professionals, trust the doctors, trust your nursing staff," Stallings said. "I see Kootenai Medical Center making a cry for help, and we need to answer that. We need to come together as a community."