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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.

Gov. Brad Little Offers Grim Warning, Holds Off On New Restrictions As Idaho Hospitals Fill Up

Darin Oswald
Idaho Statesman

During a tense and emotional press conference Thursday, Gov. Brad Little laid out in grim detail the direction Idaho is heading as hospitals near their limits, though he took no additional action to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Capacity at hospitals around the state are nearly full, Little said, with data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare showing little, if any, slowing of record-high infection rates and deaths.

“In multiple counties, the morgues are full and they’re starting to ask for refrigerated trailers to hold the bodies,” he said.

The governor urged COVID-19 skeptics to accept the bleak reality facing the state’s health care system.

“The hospitals aren’t fudging the numbers, they have absolutely no incentive to make our current situation seem worse than it is,” Little said. “The problem facing our medical facilities is real.”

If transmission isn’t tamped down, he said the state will be forced to authorize crisis standards of care, which allow hospitals to decide who gets a bed or how much treatment they might receive.

“If your wife is a diabetic and has had an infection, she may not get a hospital bed. If your husband has a stroke or heart attack, paramedics may not be able to arrive quickly, leaving him to wait longer for help,” Little said.

Data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare show COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death in the state from January through November. Last month, it was the number one cause of death.

So far1,103 people had died from complications related to COVID-19 in Idaho, as of Thursday afternoon.

In his pleas for Idahoans to “do the right thing” by wearing masks, and physically distancing themselves from those outside of their household, he featured several people with personal messages of their own.

Kristen Connelly, an ICU nurse at St. Luke’s, described the fear and suffering of COVID patients that she’s cared for. She told the story of a mother who fought for her life so that her young child would know her – one she ultimately lost.

“She is not just a COVID statistic. She is a mom and a wife. She’s somebody’s daughter and sister and friend and every life counts,” Connelly said as her voice wavered.

Those in the community tell her their reality isn’t marked by sickness and death.

“As human beings we do tend to form beliefs and ideas based on how we perceive and look at things and what our experience is and that doesn’t necessarily make your reality the truth,” she said.

Little also invited Jason Stevens, a man in his 40s from Twin Falls, who said he didn’t believe in COVID-19 initially. He became significantly ill from it this year and was forced to isolate from his wife and children for 10 days and miss work for weeks.

“COVID is not a joke and it’s not a flu. It’s much more serious than that,” Stevens said.

He said Idahoans complying with recommendations and restrictions will help keep businesses open and families healthy.

But Little added no new coronavirus-related restrictions Thursday.

Pummeled by questions from reporters asking whether he’s abdicated his responsibility to protect the health of the state’s citizens or whether he thinks a statewide mask mandate would do any harm, the governor appeared frustrated.

In the past, he’s questioned the effectiveness of such a mandate in a state where residents heavily value their independence.

“The interest in compliance dwindles significantly the further it gets away from the Treasure Valley,” Little said Thursday.

“We know that there’s a high percent of the population that are trying to do the right thing. The problem is that we have such wide viral spread that we’ve got to have a higher percent of the population doing these right things to get those numbers down so we don’t go into crisis standards of care.”

Authorizing such standards of care may be imminent, as the state begins to grapple with the fallout of the Thanksgiving holidays.

It set three new daily case count records already this month as of Thursday afternoon, with doctors and hospitals bracing for another spike in what’s been a relentless start to winter.

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

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