Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

Idaho back to Stage 3, but with no mask mandate or enforcement, will it do any good?

Idaho Statesman

Oct. 27

Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Monday moved the state back to Stage 3 of the state’s reopening plan, a nod to the state’s growing coronavirus crisis that soon could overwhelm hospital and health care capacity.

The differences between Stage 4 and Stage 3 are minimal, though, and without a statewide mask mandate and without any sort of enforcement, very little is likely to change. We make yet another call for a statewide mask mandate in Idaho. Medical professionals at Little’s press conference were begging people to wear masks, saying it’s the single-most effective thing we can do, yet the governor still won’t pull the trigger.

The main difference in Stage 3 is that large-scale events that we have been seeing at the Ford Idaho Center and elsewhere, such as the recent “Back the Blue” event and the “Freakshow of Amateur Wrestling,” featuring 3,500 athletes, would be prohibited.

Under Stage 3, indoor gatherings are limited to 50 people or less. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 25% capacity. Long-term care facilities must put a mask mandate in place for visitors. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs must operate with seating only.

Gov. Little on Monday continued to double down on his request for personal responsibility and his reliance on “localized approach,” relying on local public health districts to do the right things.

“The eventual shift to localized approach was the right thing to do,” Little said Monday. “But it’s not worked as well as it should, because the virus is relentless. And in some parts of the state, there simply has been insufficient efforts to protect lives, local public health boards and local elected officials have the authority under Idaho law to implement and enforce measures to reduce COVID transmission in their communities.”

Some officials are taking it seriously and are doing the right thing, but many are not.

Southwest District Health failed to require masks. Panhandle Health District board members voted, 4-3, last week to rescind a mask mandate for Kootenai County, which saw 112 new cases Friday and another 108 new cases Saturday. One board member even said he doubted that coronavirus was the cause that their local hospital is at 99% capacity, a sure sign that the localized approach isn’t working.

Still, Little is sticking with that strategy, even though many districts have proved to be not up to the task.

Bear in mind that we are one state, and what happens in one part of the state affects other parts. For example, patients are being transferred from Twin Falls to Boise hospitals because of the surge of cases there.

Little is also continuing to rely on the good graces of all Idahoans.

“I still maintain the best defense against this aggressive and damaging virus is personal responsibility in our actions,” Little said Monday. “Wear a mask. Watch your distance, wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick and get a flu shot. We Idahoans share pride in our long history of rallying together in times of crisis. My fellow Idahoans, I ask each of you to recommit yourselves to fighting this ugly disease, to protecting your loved ones and neighbors, to keeping Idaho strong. Together we can do this.”

Moving Idaho back to Stage 3, in reality, does very little, and by continuing to simply rely on Idahoans to “do the right thing,” which many have shown they are not willing to do, why should we expect any better results?

Online: Idaho Statesman


Now is Gov. Little’s time to lead, not follow

The Lewiston Tribune

Oct. 28

Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s latest response to surging COVID-19 infections in his state is notable for what it does not do.

Going back to Stage 3 won’t close bars and restaurants — although there will be some restraint on crowd size and capacity.

It won’t close churches.

It won’t limit travel.

It won’t close the schools.

And it won’t employ the one effective weapon in our arsenal against this pandemic — a statewide face mask mandate.

In other words, the governor continues to kick this can down to the regional and local level — much as President Donald Trump has dumped the COVID-19 response in the laps of Little and his fellow governors.

Hence, the irony — no doubt, unintended — contained in the governor’s words Monday.

“The no-action approach to dealing with COVID-19 is not a responsible option,” Little said. “I would ask my fellow Idahoans, please support those leaders who have acted, and communicate with those leaders who have resisted action. They need to recognize the urgency of our situation, for our health, for our economy and to keep our kids in school.”

Idaho’s COVID-19 numbers are alarming.

On Oct. 16, the state set a record for new infections — 1,094. It came close again on Friday with 1,073.

That eclipses the previous spike of 727 cases on July 15. When the first wave struck in the spring, new infections surged to 222 in early April.

While a third wave is underway across much of the U.S., Idaho’s situation is more precarious. Its seven-day average of new infections per capita is fifth highest in the nation — roughly half of North Dakota and comparable to Montana, Utah and Wyoming — but double that of Nevada and five times higher than Washington or Oregon.

Likewise, its seven-day average of deaths per capita is tied with Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska and South Carolina for fifth highest — and four times higher than the per capita rate of Oregon or Washington.

But Idaho’s health care resources are more modest. Its hospitals are filling up. As of last week, the state reported 272 people hospitalized for COVID-19, including 75 requiring intensive care units.

Kootenai Health reported being at 99 percent capacity while St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center is postponing non-emergency surgeries. Both operate in regions where the health board has walked away from imposing face mask mandates. But even in eastern Idaho, where the health board has done the right thing by imposing universal masking, cases are surging — presumably because the mask orders are flouted.

There’s a lot we still don’t know about COVID-19, but this much we know: It’s being spread by airborne particles in an aerosol generated by asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals — which means the 6-foot social distancing standard developed in the 1930s may not be sufficient.

Wearing a face covering — even a homemade mask — can reduce the transmission of droplets by 70 percent. Its effectiveness depends on widespread adherence — at least 50 percent and probably closer to 85 percent.

Widespread face mask usage in cultures such as Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea kept infections much lower than in the U.S. But even here, the best known anecdote may be the case of two hair stylists in Springfield, Mo., who served 139 clients while they were infected. Because of that community’s universal mask requirement, customer and stylist alike were masked. No client tested positive for COVID-19.

What hasn’t been tried in Idaho is a statewide order with teeth.

You see the need in the caseloads in eastern Idaho, the heavy handed tactics Christ Church congregates used to disregard Moscow’s masking ordinance or even the reluctance of Lewiston city councilors to stand behind their so-called face mask advisory order.

How can Little not impose universal masking with penalties in places of public accommodation — primarily retail outlets — for not enforcing it?

How can the governor not require public school students to wear masks in the classroom?

Why can’t the governor give political cover to city councils, health boards, county commissioners and school leaders?

Earlier this year, Little performed splendidly by protecting the state from the initial wave of infection.

But he drew fire from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, anarchist Ammon Bundy, Republican legislators and his own lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin.

Since then, he’s been cowed by these zealots, refusing to do anything more than urge people to exercise personal responsibility.

This is a public health care crisis, not an anti-smoking campaign.

A leader knows the difference.

Online: The Lewiston Tribune