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

Gov. Little Announces Coronavirus Vaccine Task Force As Idaho Fails To Leave Stage 4

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

A resurgence in coronavirus cases, along with persistently elevated hospitalizations is keeping Idaho from fully graduating out of the governor’s reopening plan.

Since loosening statewide restrictions in mid-June, Idaho has recorded 80% of its 472 deaths and 85% of its roughly 38,000 confirmed cases.  Right now, nearly every business in Idaho can be open with some capacity limits, barring local restrictions.

Little also announced Thursday he’s forming a task force to urge residents to get a coronavirus vaccine when it’s released.

According to the CDC, Idaho kindergarteners are the second least vaccinated in the country, but Little says he’s not worried about people refusing to get a shot for COVID-19.

“I would almost argue that not having a mandate will make it easier,” he said.

When pressed as to why, Little said, “I think people will sit down with their community, with their health care provider, with their families and do the right thing.”

Vaccine opt-out numbers surged by nearly 25% in the 2016-2019 school years, according to the latest state data first reported by Idaho Education News

Several school districts reported to the state that more than 20% of their students have at least one exemption on file, with Wallace School District in Shoshone County saying about one-third of their students have at least one exemption.

Idaho lawmakers have made it increasingly easier for parents to opt-out their children in recent years. A signed statement from a guardian without consulting a doctor is all that’s required.

Last year, more than two dozen people testified to state officials that they specifically moved to Idaho because of its loose vaccine requirements.

And in February, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., state legislators narrowly shot down a proposal to cut recommendations that 12th graders get a meningococcal vaccine booster.

Several coronavirus vaccines are in the final stages of clinical trials that could be ready by the end of the year, but it will likely take time before they’re widely available.

The governor also announced that Idaho received 35,000 rapid antigen tests unveiled by the White House earlier this week, which will be prioritized for schools after first being distributed to public health districts.

State epidemiologist, Dr. Christine Hahn, said teachers and staff will be first in line.

“We want to make sure we can keep those schools open. They can’t operate if the teachers aren’t there or the staff aren’t there,” Hahn said.

The test is designed for those who are feeling sick, according to Hahn, but she said federal officials have cleared Idaho to use them on asymptomatic people if it so chooses.

Another 530,000 rapid tests will be shipped to the state over the next three months.

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

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