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Longtime Panhandle Health District board member dies

Dr. Allen Banks, who served on the health district board for 24 years, represented Bonner County on the board.
Credit: Coeur d'Alene Press
Dr. Allen Banks.

SANDPOINT, Idaho — Longtime Panhandle Health District (PHD) board member Dr. Allen Banks passed away in his mid-70s on Thursday night, as reported by KREM 2 media partners, the Coeur d'Alene/Post Falls Press.

Banks’ cause of death has still not been released.

Banks, who served on the health district board for 24 years, represented Bonner County on the board along with former commissioner Glen Bailey. PHD oversees public health programs and services for Boundary, Bonner, Benewah, Kootenai and Shoshone counties.

At the request of PHD Director Don Duffy, a discussion is being held Thursday to discuss appointing a new member to the board. Bonner County commissioners appoint two seats on the seven-member board.

“I’m totally shocked by Allen’s passing,” said Commissioner Chairman Dan McDonald on Friday. “He was a logical thinker, he did his research, wasn’t emotional in responses but always based everything on fact and logic.”

“I think he did a really good job of representing the commissioners on Panhandle Health. He was right in line with what our thoughts were and we appreciated his service to the county. I think it’s a huge loss for Bonner County. I think it’s a huge loss for the world,” McDonald said.

Banks was vocal about what he felt was a lack of scientific research regarding aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had an ongoing experiment going on worldwide with masks versus no masks, depending on the jurisdiction where one lives," Banks said in January 2021. "There’s no significant difference between areas with mask mandates and areas without mask mandates. One would expect to see a huge difference if, in fact, masks were effective. If there’s just a minor difference, the imposition of a government mandate on the public at large does not make any sense.”

Other members of the board opposed Banks’ views, insisting that COVID-19 transmission rates in the Panhandle could be mitigated with a mask mandate.

“We are inundated — actually flooded — with nonsense,” fellow board member Dr. Richard McLandress said in January 2021 when the board voted to extend mask mandates in the Panhandle. “The nonsense that this is no more than the flu and the nonsense that there may be no coronavirus or COVID-19 around us causing all this trouble. I’m happy to report … to that nonsense that we know better.”

Board members passionately argued for both sides of the mandate, with McLandress saying the mask mandate sends a message that North Idaho takes virus-related deaths seriously.

Although Banks’ public stance on the COVID-19 pandemic drew scrutiny from some, Scott Herndon, chairman of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee, said Banks was dissatisfied with standard PCR tests as a definitive diagnosis for the disease. Banks, Herndon said, didn't feel that it was sufficient in and of itself to draw that conclusion.

"He was frustrated that, nationally, we kind of stopped with the PCR tests and really didn't dive deeper and figure out what the actual disease was in his opinion that obviously people were afflicted with," Herndon said.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, Polymerase Chain Reaction tests are one of two diagnostic tests that can be administered to determine if an individual has contracted COVID-19.

“PCR tests detect the presence of the virus's genetic material … Generally speaking, PCR tests are highly accurate,” read the article.

Far from a "COVID denier" that some might claim, Herndon said Banks fully acknowledged the disease and its reality. He simply felt there needed to be greater analysis of what the actual disease transmission was.

"Some felt that he somehow had a disdain for COVID, that he didn't have a lot of respect for the disease process, but that's not the case," the BCRCC chairman said. "What he had a disrespect for was the incomplete nature of the scientific examination of the disease itself."

Others had a misconception that Banks, a Republican, didn't believe the disease was real or serious. Herndon said that was not the case. Banks didn't deny COVID-19 or its reality, he simply believed the government has no right to mandate either masking or vaccinations, like many other Bonner County public officials, Herndon said

Herndon said Banks had the ability to separate policy from people, and that he could debate an issue in-depth without it never turning personal. Additionally, according to Herndon, Banks never held anyone's opinions against them — even if they were diametrically opposed to his.

Herndon said it would be hard to find someone who didn't like Banks or appreciate his thoughtful approach to the issues — whether they agreed with him or not. Herndon said his death leaves a huge hole to fill for both the Bonner County Republican Central Committee and the health district.

"He was a really friendly guy," he said. "His immediate neighbors who just moved here this year said he was literally one of the best neighbors they have ever come across."

The at-large board member was appointed by Bonner County commissioners in 1997. With a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Colorado, Banks focused on cancer research before advancing to pharmaceutical development.

“For several years, Dr. Banks taught continuing medical education at the University of Wisconsin Medical School related to the practice of prolotherapy. … Dr. Banks brings a skill set to the PHD board which is unique in that he has worked in pharmaceutical development, genetic engineering, and clinical evaluation of therapeutics.” his biography reads in part on the health district website

Out of respect for the family’s privacy, the Banks were not contacted for comment for this article.

In addition to his role on the PHD board, Banks served as a precinct chairman in the Careywood area, a position that will go before voters in the district in the May primary.

Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.