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Callers Hammer Gov. Brad Little In Town Hall Demanding An Idaho Mask Mandate

Darin Oswald
Idaho Statesman

Callers from around the state spent 40 minutes Tuesday once again asking Gov. Brad Little why he won’t implement a statewide mask mandate.

Once it started, callers during the AARP tele-town hall never really let up.

“Why aren’t you willing to really help protect the people of Idaho,” asked Julie from Lenore.

“You’ve abdicated your responsibility to the locals and the locals just don’t care,” added Bob from Sagle.

Mark from Pocatello called the steps Little took Monday “half-baked” and that he should be the “adult in the room.”

“At what point do you say ‘Ok kids, now we’re going to tell you what to do,’” Mark said.

And Betty from Nampa, who said she has a compromised immune system and doesn’t want to risk going out into public with so few mask wearers, said it’s time to put some muscle into enforcing restrictions.

“It’s like with little children: ‘You’re going to stand in a corner and there’s going to be a consequence for something if you do it,’” she said.

But Little stuck to his belief that increased outreach and relying on people’s personal responsibility is the only way to get Idahoans to wear a mask, something Little has pleaded with state residents to do for months. Wearing a face covering has been shown to slow the spread of the virus and possibly decreases the severity of an illness if a person gets sick.

“Having a mandate is one thing. Having people comply with it is quite different,” Little said.

He even pushed back about even being able to enforce such a mandate.

“I don’t have a statewide health policy police force.”

But the Idaho State Police does answer to Little, who appoints the agency’s director.

Meanwhile, the state has confirmed more than 52,000 cases of COVID-19, nearly 600 deaths and hospitals are nearly full, with options of where to transfer patients shrinking as Utah hospitals are preparing to implement crisis care plans that involve creating makeshift hospitals and triaging patients – something typically reserved for mass casualty events. Health officials in Idaho are considering the possibility of activating similar crisis care plans. 

Little on Monday rolled Idaho back into a modified version of Stage 3 of his reopening plan. Hardly any new restrictions were included in the plan, though gatherings are supposed to be limited to 50 people and masks will be required for those visiting nursing homes.

The lack of enforcement – only one citation was ever written during Idaho’s springtime lockdown – has been a point of pride for Little, who said that he believes it’s a sign that his focus on education and peer pressuring residents to wear a mask and to physically distance themselves from one another has been working.

But Idaho’s skyrocketing numbers and bulging hospitals are in stark contrast to neighboring Oregon, which has 2.3 times the population and has had some form of a statewide mask mandate in effect since July 1. Idaho has recorded more than twice as many deaths and three times as many cases per capita as Oregon throughout the pandemic.

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

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