An Idaho public health meeting ended abruptly Tuesday evening after protesters converged around the city’s health department building and outside the homes of multiple health officials.
The Central District Health meeting in Boise, Idaho, where members were expected to discuss a Covid-19 health order, ended just 15 minutes into the agenda due to safety concerns related to the protests, various city officials said. A photographer with NBC News affiliate KTVB on the scene outside the health department estimated there were several hundred protesters present, most of whom were not wearing masks.
Idaho is one of many states in which government efforts to institute pandemic mitigation measures have been met with protests, but it’s unclear how widespread those sentiments are. A Pew Research Center survey from August found that 69 percent of Americans thought governments had lifted outbreak restrictions too quickly.
But public opinion polls have also found deep divisions between Republicans and Democrats on the government pandemic response. Almost 64 percent of Idahoans voted for President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election, making it one of the reddest states in the country.
Tuesday’s protests were organized in part by People’s Rights, a group created by Ammon Bundy, an anti-government activist and an outspoken opponent of mask mandates during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to The Associated Press. Members of the anti-vaccination group Health Freedom Idaho also reportedly attended the protest.
Idaho has reported more than 113,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths from Covid-19.
#Breaking – The Central District Health meeting has been cancelled because of the intense level of protests here and at the homes of CDH members. They just announced over a loud speaker in the parking lot, the crowd loudly cheered. Speaker now mocking the board and decision pic.twitter.com/gf0PtmbAqv
— Joe Parris (@KTVBJoe) December 9, 2020
Health board members were listening to a presentation by Dr. David Peterman, CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, an Idaho hospital company, when a board member interrupted him and said there were protesters outside her home, according to KTVB.
“My 12-year-old son is home by himself right now and there are protesters banging outside the door,” Central District Health board member Diana Lachionado said, according to KTVB. “I’m gonna go home and make sure he’s OK.”
A few minutes later, Central District Health Director Russell Duke said he had received a call from Boise Mayor Lauren McLean asking the board to end the meeting due to the intensity of the protests, according to KTVB.
“Earlier today, in consultation with Boise Police Chief Lee and I asked Central District Health to adjourn their meeting in the interest of public safety. The temperature had risen to a point that wasn’t safe,” McLean wrote in a statement posted on her Twitter.
5/7 The rule of law is necessary for our democracy, and local government in action. A faction of people seek to disrupt and divide us, but Boiseans have shown time and time again that we’re willing to sacrifice for the health of others.
— Mayor McLean (@boisemayor) December 9, 2020
The Boise Police Department said in a statement that it had also requested for the adjournment of the meeting “in the interest of public safety,” after protesters had forced their way into the public health department building. One person, Yvonne St. Cyr, 53, from Boise, was arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges after refusing to leave the health department building, police said.
The police department is also pursuing arrest warrants on suspicion of disturbing the peace after responding to protests outside the homes of at least three board members, the statement continued.
“We appreciate the public’s interest and investment in this process, but the safety of CDH staff, our Board members and our law enforcement partners is of the utmost importance,” Duke said in a statement released by the agency. “Our community is being severely impacted by this virus and our team members and board are working tirelessly to protect our community’s health.”
The meeting has not yet been rescheduled, the agency added.
“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,” Idaho Gov. Brad Little wrote in a statement posted on his Twitter account. “There is no place for this behavior in Idaho. I urge calm among Idahoans so we can get through the pandemic together, stronger.”