Idaho Gov. Brad Little held a press conference on the state’s COVID-19 response Friday afternoon as Idaho continues to see record numbers of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
As West Virginia and Utah, both of which are states with similar political demographics to Idaho and have Republican governors, are rolling out mask mandates, Gov. Little has refused to do so, calling for the personal responsibility of Idahoans to wear facial coverings.
Little is moving Idaho to a modified stage two of Idaho Rebounds, the state’s COVID-19 strategy rolled out this spring. In this modified stage, two weeks after the state moved back to a modified stage three, gatherings will be limited to 10 people, except for in religious and political settings. Bars, schools, business and religious facilities will remain open, although bars and restaurants are now limited to sitting-room only.
Universities will continue to function, though many reporters and speakers expressed concerns about students possibly bringing COVID-19 home to their communities for Thanksgiving break.
Little is also calling in 100 Idaho National Guard members to “increase critical access to healthcare statewide.” Major General Michael J. Garshak of the Idaho National Guard said in the press conference that their members will focus on decontaminating buildings and COVID-19 testing, among a variety of other services as needed.
These measures come after Idaho’s cases have been skyrocketing, with new daily cases consistently numbering over 1,000 and the state has seen case records nine out of the last 10 days.
For several weeks, hospitals, mainly the St. Luke’s in Twin Falls, Idaho, have occasionally been sending people with COVID-19 to Treasure Valley hospitals because they do not have the capacity to treat them. Some patients have even been sent out of state.
Little, a doctor, a respiratory care specialist and a mother who gave birth to her child while she had COVID-19 weeks ago and is still suffering from symptoms spoke at the press conference, and all pleaded with Idahoans individually to wear masks and take more precautions not to spread the virus.
“I’ve got to make a better case for people to do the right thing,” Little said, claiming that he remained hopeful that Idahoans would rally and slow the spread.
At the same time, over 3,000 people watched the livestream, and hundreds of comments claimed that Little and the other speakers were fear mongering, asking how much speakers were being paid to make claims and asked medical specialists for evidence, saying that masks are ineffective. Many simply said, “if you’re afraid of catching the virus, stay at home.”
Little said that his reason for not mandating masks is because it won’t be efficient, as private social settings are Idaho’s leading settings for transmitting the virus. He is taking personal responsibility for not having the intended impact of persuading people to wear masks.
Little said idahoans need to “really believe in the efficacy of masks in order to protect themselves and their communities.”
The respiratory care specialist from St. Luke’s expressed her frustration that she was most at risk of contracting the novel coronavirus not in her hospital with sick patients, but in her community.
“I’m not going to catch COVID in the hospital, I’m going to catch it in the community,” she said. “At this point, it’s a sign of disrespect if you’re not wearing your mask.”
Little said that based on his information from hospital officials, many hospitals are days or weeks away from rationing care.
“I don’t think anyone anticipated the increase we’re seeing today, that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Little said.
Despite Little’s claims that this increase was a surprise, his own press conference two weeks ago suggested otherwise when he said, “Hospitals throughout the state are quickly filling up or are already full with COVID-19 patients and other patients.”
The Arbiter will continue to report on any changes that the state government makes to COVID-19 regulations that might affect students.