September 25, 2020 (Moscow, Idaho) -- The City of Moscow has prided itself on being an all-inclusive community, a community that appreciates and welcomes diversity, the arts, and the benefits of being a border town with two large universities just 8 miles apart. The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted us as a City and the nation as a whole. We have seen varying responses among all levels of government, including local, statewide, nationally, and globally, along with varying responses in the private sector among businesses. We are seeing a great division among our citizens due to the differing views of what is the appropriate response to COVID-19.
The Mayor and Council of the City of Moscow have been resolute in their approach to protect the health and safety of its citizens from the beginning. As described by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, "The COVID-19 pandemic is a serious global health threat." According to the Mayo Clinic, "Although most people with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms, the disease can cause severe medical complications and lead to death in some people." Moscow has significantly benefitted from this approach and has continued to see the benefits of our choices with lower per capita increase in positive cases and no hospitalizations or deaths in our community compared to our neighboring cities.
When Governor Brad Little implemented Stage 4 of the Stay Healthy Guidelines, Idaho's response to COVID-19 transitioned from a statewide response to a local response. Governor Little has encouraged local officials to take any measures they deem necessary and appropriate to protect their community. Due to the unique location of Moscow, and the Mayor's and City Council's desire to protect our citizens, knowing we still do not have a vaccine for COVID-19, knowing our numbers nationwide continue to rise along with the death rate, and having a goal of zero deaths for our community and to slow the spread of COVID-19, Amended Public Health Emergency No. 20-03 was implemented by Mayor Lambert, effective Jul. 2, 2020, and has continued to be accepted and extended by the Council.
That Order, in its most simple form, requires people that do not live in the same household to maintain at least 6-foot physical distancing from non-household members when in places that are open to the public. If distancing cannot be maintained, then it is required to wear a face covering. The Order applies to all people when in public settings with limited exceptions. The Order does not apply to a private residences.
From the beginning of the Public Health Emergency Order, the Moscow Police Officers focused on their community policing model by educating and seeking voluntary compliance. Leading up to the event that took place at City Hall on Sep. 23, the Moscow Police have reported 90-95% compliance with the Order. Their education efforts, offering face coverings when people didn't have them, and requesting compliance have been successful. Before Sep. 23, no situation warranted police officers to issue a citation.
At a gathering of 150-200 people in the public parking lot of Moscow City Hall on Sep. 23, 2020, five persons were issued citations relating to violations of the City's Emergency Order. The group organizers of the event that occurred on Sep. 23 advertised on social media accounts that they were going to have a gathering on that date and specifically requested that participants not wear masks. The message being communicated was to show a disregard for the Emergency Order. Our police requested compliance, and after a clear showing of non-compliance, our police officers were faced with a situation where they felt an obligation to enforce the lawful Order.
As a result of the citations issued and the arrests that took place, the City Police Officers, City Staff, City Council, and the Mayor have received numerous emails and phone calls expressing disappointment, misperceptions of what took place, and threats. These threats from various groups indicate they are going to come to our City to protest in a manner that may escalate to violence. These groups are from other parts of the country and are threatening to bring in a large number of protesters to our community, which would serve to increase the risk of COVID-19 infection in our area.
Mayor Bill Lambert, responding to public concerns about the issuance of the citations, said, "I understand that people have different opinions regarding the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are certainly fortunate that the actions of our citizens have resulted in slowing the rate of infection in our community. It is also unfortunate that some persons have been cited for violating the public health emergency order. However, as we await the disposition of these citations, it makes good sense to continue our commitment to community policing and focus on education to gain the cooperation of our citizens in slowing the spread of this pandemic. Our officers are at their best when they are encouraging and helping our citizens to do the right thing. We are interested in protecting our community from COVID-19, not issuing citations."
The City of Moscow will continue to assess the situation of the pandemic along with the safety of its citizens and its officers in continuing and enforcing the Amended Public Health Order No. 20-03. We believe there will be continued protests that will increase the threat to our community both in terms of safety to citizens and in light of increased COVID-19 cases. Our officers will continue to make decisions on the best way to proceed on a case-by-case basis, keeping in mind the health and safety of our citizens and officers. The police response may call for the issuance of additional citations or no police intervention at all, depending on the totality of the information they have at the time.
The City continues to ask the community to comply with the social distancing and face-covering regulations. The officers of the Moscow Police Department will continue to employ community policing efforts to gain compliance. Moscow Police Chief James Fry said, "I am proud of our officers and the caring and professional manner they go about their jobs. I am also hoping that all members of our community will respect each other and help our City to slow this pandemic."
As directed by the City Council, City staff will work with local health authorities to identify metrics that can be used by the Council to determine when the emergency order is no longer necessary. According to statistics provided by the State of Idaho Public Health North Central District, a record daily increase of 31 new cases of COVID-19 was confirmed on Thu., Sep. 25, 2020.
Story Contact: Gary J. Riedner, City Supervisor