Tensions rise over masks as virus grips smaller US cities

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FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2020, file photo, physician assistant Nicole Thomas conducts a COVID-19 examination in the parking lot at Primary Health Medical Group's clinic in Boise, Idaho. Arguments over mask requirements and other restrictions have turned ugly in recent days as the deadly coronavirus surge engulfs small and medium-size cities that once seemed a safe remove from the outbreak. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger, File)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Arguments over mask requirements and other restrictions have turned ugly in recent days as the deadly coronavirus surge across the U.S. engulfs small and medium-size cities that once seemed safely removed from the outbreak.

In Boise, Idaho, public health officials about to vote on a four-county mask mandate abruptly ended a meeting Tuesday evening because of fears for their safety amid anti-mask protests outside the building and at some of their homes.

One health board member tearfully announced she had to rush home to be with her child because of the protesters, who were seen on video banging on buckets, blaring air horns and sirens, and blasting a sound clip of gunfire from the violence-drenched movie “Scarface" outside her front door.

“I am sad. I am tired. I fear that, in my choosing to hold public office, my family has too often paid the price,” said the board member, Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo. “I increasingly don’t recognize this place. There is an ugliness and cruelty in our national rhetoric that is reaching a fevered pitch here at home, and that should worry us all."

Boise police said three arrest warrants were issued in connection with the demonstrations at board members' homes.

In South Dakota, the mayor of Rapid City said City Council members were harassed and threatened over a proposed citywide mask mandate that failed this week even as intensive care units across the state filled with COVID-19 patients.

The tensions are flaring amid an epic surge in U.S. deaths, hospitalizations and infections over the past several weeks.

The U.S. topped 3,000 deaths Wednesday in what is a single-day record, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That's surpassed the level seen during last spring's peak in and around New York City. New cases per day have rocketed to more than 200,000 on average, and the number of patients in the hospital with COVID-19 stood at almost 105,000 on Tuesday, another all-time high.