Central District Health staffers will no longer be allowed to repost elected officials’ social media content on the district’s official channels, board members said Friday. And if board members want to retract a public health advisory on COVID-19, CDH will follow their direction.
CDH board members unanimously approved a new social media policy that states the public health district will refrain from reposting content from elected officials. The policy said the board of health “prefers to avoid any perception of the agency providing support for any elected official in their professional capacity by reposting their public health content.”
The new policies were created in response to concerns raised by Idaho House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, a Hammett Republican, and Raul Labrador, a former Republican congressman.
CDH shares Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, Gov. Brad Little content
Central District Health oversees public health in Ada, Elmore, Valley and Boise counties. The health district has shared Facebook posts and tweets from Idaho elected officials, including Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and Republican Gov. Brad Little. Blanksma in August criticized CDH’s decision to “endorse” a statement by McLean involving a mask mandate.
Following new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that encouraged mask wearing indoors, Boise officials on July 27 announced they would require face coverings inside city facilities. Central District Health issued a press release about 20 minutes later, saying it supported the CDC’s guidance and recommended wearing masks indoors when there are high levels of community transmission, which the Boise area has.
At the board meeting Friday, Blanksma also criticized CDH’s decision to share McLean’s Facebook post that discouraged setting off fireworks at home.
“While that’s not political, it was limited in what its public health value was,” Blanksma said.
Valley County Commissioner Elt Hasbrouck, a board member, expressed concern about whether employees could be penalized for accidentally violating the policy. He said he didn’t think such a violation should go into a personnel file as it will take time to adjust to the new rule.
Alina Gilmore, a spokesperson for CDH, told the Idaho Statesman that the public health district would look at the circumstances around a social media violation. If the violation were repeated, CDH would treat it in the same way it treats other policy violations.
“It would involve progressive discipline and would seek further actions depending on the severity,” Gilmore said in a statement.
COVID-19 policy for CDH gives board power to retract advisories
Labrador in August also said he wanted the board to have more say in what the CDH advises to the public. Board members on Friday approved a new COVID-19 policy on public health advisories.
The policy states that CDH will share public health advisories with board members at the same time they’re shared with the public. But if board members want to modify or retract a health advisory, CDH “will take necessary steps to immediately follow the direction of the board.”
Public health advisories are issued by staff and approved by the district director, and should be based on science and data, the policy states. The board would have the power to retract only COVID-19 advisories.
Labrador on Friday questioned CDH Director Russ Duke about advice he provided to the West Ada School District over children wearing masks. Labrador pointed to the public health district’s decision to support indoor mask wearing, and said the board should grant its approval to CDH before it recommends guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Duke said he was invited to provide his advice by the school district, and pushed back on claims that mask wearing is psychologically harmful to children. He maintained that children are in a high-risk environment and COVID-19 transmission occurs at schools. The CDC, the nation’s public health agency, provides information on the science behind masking recommendations to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Hasbrouck said micromanaging Duke’s position on what he thinks is good advice “would be a huge mistake” and would gut the public health agency’s powers.
“To me this is what Russ’ job is, to offer advice to people who ask for the advice,” Hasbrouck said. “If you were to go in there and say, ‘You know what? The CDC (recommends this), but you guys do what you want,’ we lose our strength as a public health agency.”
Labrador told the Idaho Statesman that he’s happy with the new policies for now and wants to see how they work before considering whether he would like to see more board control over messaging.
“My goal is not to micromanage anything,” Labrador said, but added that “certain directives,” including support for CDC recommendations, should not be given without board approval.