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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Boise Mayor On Prioritizing City Employees As Essential And Reflections On 1-Year COVID Anniversary

Steven Cornfield

The Idaho Statesman recently reported more than half of the City of Boise's workforce have been told that they may be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 1,100 city employees, not including police or fire personnel, received letters in January telling them that they should be registering for a vaccine appointment sooner than later."In talking to Central District Health about all of this, we had different definitions and timings of who's essential," said Boise Mayor Lauren McLean. "We will continue to advocate for our employees, as I know that other CEOs and executives are advocating for theirs."

McLean visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about that decision, the possibility of the city being part of mass vaccination efforts, and the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 infections in Idaho.

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Boise Mayor Lauren McLean is here. There's always plenty to talk about. So, let's get underway and say good morning, Mayor McClean.

MAYOR LAUREN MCLEAN: Good morning, George. Thanks so much for having me.

PRENTICE: Up top, I have to ask about a story that many of us read…and, I must admit, I read with some confusion… that more than half of the city's workforce - more than 1,100 people, got letters from the city informing them that they would be eligible for a COVID vaccination. So, are you saying that half of the city's employees fall under the Vaccine Advisory Committee's recommendations, which most of us are following?

Credit Courtesy Lauren McLean
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean

MCLEAN: We've been advocating since December that many of our employees are essential. And think about the folks that fingerprint and do background checks on child care workers or work with the homeless community to connect them with services, and the team at our water renewal plant that keeps your water clean and running correctly. And so, in talking with the State and Central District Health, we advocated for our employees. And then recognizing that as a city, we know best who is essential to the operations of a city,  we let employees know that we deem them essential. Some of them qualified back a month ago. Others qualify now, and more will qualify in future rounds of vaccination qualifications, based on the state determinations.

PRENTICE: So, when I look at Group Three, and we're a couple of steps away from that, and I see water and wastewater workers, tellers, I.T., public safety engineers, and public health workers, I guess my question is:  What would you tell people in the private sector who do those types of jobs who have to wait?

MCLEAN: So, in talking to the Central District Health about all of this, we had different definitions and timings of who's essential. And we will continue to advocate for our employees, as I know that other CEOs and executives are advocating for theirs, to ensure that folks can stay healthy and get the vaccine as soon as possible. And what we saw during this weekend, as we moved into a new round of eligibility…

PRENTICE: The 2.3 group.

MCLEAN: Yes, the 2.3 group. I was just talking to Primary Health this morning. There are so many slots available throughout the valley and the region. We're really encouraging anyone that falls within that 2.3 group to get an appointment because there is a vaccine out there that helps everyone when you get a vaccination, if you're willing, and it ensures that we can get back to a strong, safe and fully open economy.

PRENTICE: But I know and you know that there's a fair amount of people who are eligible, yet they're struggling to secure an appointment. So, what would you tell them?

MCLEAN: I'm encouraging people right now especially to check out the Crush the Curve Idaho, because they have links to all the different pharmacies where vaccinations are . available. It’s a great place to go and see all your options and go from there.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about mass vaccination. The numbers in the upcoming groups are formidable. What role, if any, will the city play in helping to facilitate mass vaccinations?

MCLEAN: That's a great question, George. We had a vaccination site together with the county to ensure that any of our first responders, fire, police…

PRENTICE: Was that at Idaho Ice World?

MCLEAN: Yes, at Idaho Ice World. And we've said since the beginning that when and if there is an appetite for additional mass vaccination sites to make available to more people, more quickly, we're more than happy to help. We have demonstrated in the last year our emergency planning team is ready and able to deploy solutions for our community, whether that be housing for those who are medically fragile, that are housed or as we saw with Ice World, popping up that mass vaccination clinic. I'm so ready to do that. If the county and state are ready as well and determine that it's a good next step.

PRENTICE: What do you think is the next potential step of easing restrictions in the city… and what will it take to get to that step?

MCLEAN: So, I really want to celebrate the partnership that we now have with the business community, the hospitality and events community, and of course, Central District Health - making it possible to review plans for events or gatherings larger than 50 people, so that we can make sure that they're done in a healthy and safe way; but allow more to happen. We will continue, as long as Central District Health has an advisory strongly encouraging masks in this entire county, and we, as the largest city and economic hub, will have a mask order in-place and continue to encourage folks. Mask up. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Get your vaccine as soon as you can. All of that makes it possible for our businesses to remain open and for us all to prepare for the next steps. And in the meantime, while looking to Central District Health to tell us when things might change, we are working with them to ensure that more events of larger sizes can occur safely. So, all of us in these warmer days, we're seeing so many people getting vaccinations. It also feels great to be able to have some events while protecting the health and safety of our residents.

PRENTICE: So, are we talking about a possible events, say, at the Boise Center?

MCLEAN: There's quite a few. And we're going to lead by example as a city. We're sending our plans for Simplot Field, for instance, to Central District Health and asking them to sign off, so that families… if we can, come up with a safe way, families can be there on the soccer fields. Boise Center and other places would send their plans to Central District Health. And if approved, then they come back to us if they need permits from the City. So, we think there's a lot of opportunity here in partnership with the business community and Central District Health to make it possible for events and gatherings to occur in safe ways. So, we've got stuff happening in the community for folks that are seeking opportunities to get involved. And at the same time, we have the safeguards in place to keep everyone healthy.

PRENTICE: I've got just a couple of minutes left. Governor Brad Little was asked recently about the cost of living, and he said, off the cuff, that people ought to consider moving away from cities and into rural areas where WiFi might be available… and they ought to move, to be able to afford housing. In other words, moving away from cities like Boise.  And to that, you would say what?

MCLEAN: Well… of course, we live in Boise because we know it's such a great place to live. And we're seeing more and more people agree with that. There are many people that are blessed with the ability to work remotely. There are many, many people that have to work in-person. And we've seen that in the last year. And if you're working in Boise or the Treasure Valley, and you don't have the option to commute from home, we want to make sure that we have housing for you, to afford to live in the community in which you work. And so, day by day, hour by hour, while addressing public health, is also coming up with solutions to ensure that we have housing at Boise budgets for everybody that has to work in person or remotely within Boise.

PRENTICE: Sad to say, it's been a year this week since our first cluster of infections of COVID, and I'm hoping that conversations like this will become fewer and fewer.

MCLEAN: Well, thank you, George. It's great, as always, to talk to you. And yes, it is a year since this all began, since our first infections in the state and here, and we've lost many. We've seen so many people sacrifice. All of us are ready to move beyond this, so that we're reading about it in history books or oral histories, rather than hearing about it in real time on the radio. But I think the community, all residents of Boise and beyond, who have stepped up and played a part in ensuring that we keep our public, our residents safe and healthy, that we honor those that we've lost, and that we recover in a much more resilient way.

PRENTICE: Mayor Laura McLean, have a good week.

MCLEAN: Thank you. You too.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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