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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.

Callers Demand Statewide Mask Mandate In Idaho From Gov. Brad Little

Darin Oswald
Idaho Statesman

Coronavirus cases have begun spiking statewide in Idaho again after the Labor Day holiday and people continuing to hold get-togethers with family and friends, according to public health officials.

During Tuesday’s town hall hosted by AARP Idaho, several callers confronted Gov. Brad Little. They were frustrated that not much was being done, in their minds, to cut the spread of COVID-19, including Craig from Twin Falls.

“Why haven’t we mandated the wearing of masks? Why doesn’t anybody have the political backbone to do that?” he asked

Little punted that responsibility to public health districts, which have the authority to do so under state law. He also said a statewide order doesn’t make sense for areas of Idaho with little spread of the disease.

“The mandate is problematic if the community doesn’t believe in it and we are a local control state,” the governor said.

But Carol in Coeur d’Alene says the mask mandate in her county isn’t even being enforced, saying she and her husband went to a restaurant in neighboring Hayden where no staff member was wearing a mask.

“All you younger folk out there in the government would just soon that we just drop dead [and] save on social security, Medicare, whatever,” she said. “We just feel like we’re not important no more.”

Little told her to support businesses that do require masks. 

Beverly in Twin Falls, who said her uncle had recently died from the coronavirus, had a sharper criticism for the governor’s response: comparing the pandemic to a freight train.

“It’s been coming down the track and there was two choices: get out of the way and then clean up the death and destruction when it’s ended, or put up barriers that will slow it down and stop it,” she said. “Obviously, the track that has been taken is the first one.”

One caller did suggest that Idaho should strive for herd immunity, which would involve exposing the vast majority of people to the coronavirus.

“Why don’t we just let everyone get the disease, get over it and let the hospitals take care of those that need to be in the hospital and cure them,” said Jim from Nampa.

Little replied that hospital capacity is a primary concern for him, saying that hospitals in Blackfoot and Pocatello were running out of beds.

Millions of Americans would likely die under such a strategy, according to public health experts. More than 200,000 in the U.S. have died due to the coronavirus already, 460 of them in Idaho.

If leaders in parts of the state embraced the idea of herd immunity and encouraged residents to ignore public health guidelines, Little said in June that’s one scenario in which he’d take action.

“In consultation with the health districts, we may have to step in, but I don’t want to do that,” he said at the time.

Hospitalizations have remained mostly flat over the past month and are still elevated compared to earlier this summer. They’re also a lagging indicator as to the severity of an outbreak, according to state health and welfare director Dave Jeppesen.

Despite cases quickly rebounding from a slight drop last month, it doesn’t appear like Little will step in anytime soon.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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