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Gov. Brad Little Moves Idaho Back To Stage 2, Calls Up National Guard, But Resists Mask Mandate

Idaho Statesman

Idaho Gov. Brad Little is rolling Idaho back to a modified version of Stage 2 pandemic restrictions and calling up the National Guard to prop up a teetering healthcare system amid skyrocketing COVID-19 infections in the state.


“We’ve come to the profound conclusion that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working,” Little said.


But the governor continues to resist growing calls for a statewide mask mandate, despite evidence that such measures have worked in other states.


Idaho is in the grips its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the first state case was diagnosed in mid-March. Deaths have also been rising sharply and health care officials say some hospitals are getting close to having to ration care.


The rollback to a modified Stage 2 means gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited indoors and outdoors. But churches are exempted and businesses remain open. That includes bars and nightclubs, as long as patrons are seated.


In contrast, neighboring Oregon has instituted a two-week partial lockdown in response to a rise in cases. But they instituted more robust restrictions and a mask mandates early on and have had far fewer cases than Idaho, despite having more than double the population.  


The Guard mobilization calls for 100 troops to bolster health care workers Little says are being stretched to the limit by the pandemic. Some hospitals are on the verge of having to ration care.


Idaho National Guard Adjutant General Michael Garshak said the deployment will not pull healthcare workers in the guard out of their civilian jobs, instead providing manpower to assist with things like screening and testing to free up healthcare workers to focus on care.


“Our hospitals and other healthcare providers are telling us too may healthcare workers across Idaho are out sick with COVID and contracting it in the community,” he said. “This impacts all of us, whether we have COVID or not.”


During the press conference, Little had a COVID survivor who is still on supplemental oxygen speak about her harrowing ordeal. He also had St. Luke’s respiratory therapist Rachel Thain share her experience as a health care worker.


Thain said Ada County’s mask mandate is helping and the lack of a mandate in neighboring counties, like Canyon, is worsening the problem.


“Masks do work,” she said. “We’re not seeing an influx of Ada County patients, where masks are worn. We’re seeing an influx of patients from surrounding counties.”


Thain begged Idahoans to take steps, like wearing masks, to slow the spread and keep the strain on hospitals under control.


“At this point it’s a sign of disrespect if you’re not wearing a mask,” she said.


Little’s compromise approach has angered both the far-right, who see any restrictions as an affront to their freedom, and the many Idahoans worried about the pandemic’s health effects, who think the governor hasn’t done enough.


Friday’s steps are unlikely to please either group.


Follow Heath Druzin on Twitter, @HDruzin

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

Heath Druzin was Boise State Public Radio’s Guns & America fellow from 2018-2020, during which he focused on extremist movements, suicide prevention and gun culture.