Gov. Brad Little Defends Idaho's Piecemeal Response To Coronavirus Pandemic

Mar 24, 2020

Callers on a tele-town hall Tuesday continued to ask why Gov. Brad Little (R) isn’t mandating that Idahoans shelter in place amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.


“We don’t know for sure how long this is going to go,” Little said.

He continues to stand by his steady drumbeat of not mandating closures statewide, saying that relying on individuals to practice social distancing and good hygiene will tamp down the spread of the disease.


For several days now, Idaho health officials have told people to work from home when possible, avoid discretionary travel and skip gatherings of more than 10 people – something that hasn’t been universally adopted.


During the roughly hour-long town hall hosted by AARP Idaho, Little pushed back against one caller who said his approach wasn’t a unified effort that would help corral the contagion.


“It’s a combination of one message, but it’s tailored for the different areas that we have and the different institutions and that’s what we’ve been doing from the get-go is following CDC guidelines.”


One caller from McCall asked Little to ban travel to the lakeside resort town where many people from across the state and the country have second homes. She said she saw a lot of cars registered in Ada County or from out of state during a recent trip to the grocery store.


“From a Constitutional standpoint, the ability to ban them is very difficult. We just have to rely on the good judgment and what the local community does,” Little said.


A letter from local leaders and hospitals over the weekend urged visitors to stay away from McCall and the wider West Central Mountains area.

“It is very likely that anyone who gets sick in our area may need to be transported to another area for treatment. This puts massive strain on our entire healthcare system,” wrote representatives from the city of McCall, St. Luke’s McCall Hospital, Cascade Medical Center, the McCall fire and police departments, Donnelly Rural Fire Protection District and the Valley County Emergency Manager.


Blaine County is the only area of the state that’s under an isolation order so far after health officials discovered coronavirus was spreading among the community.


Little’s strategy has left a patchwork of local governments to take their own action on containing the coronavirus.


Before Monday, when the Idaho State Board of Education ordered all public schools to close for one month, local school districts were making those decisions themselves.


Towns and cities have also had to make their own choices when it comes to how strictly they respond to the pandemic.


Boise has mandated that restaurants only be open for delivery and carryout options, whereas other Treasure Valley municipalities haven’t imposed any kind of restrictions.


An order also went into effect in Boise Tuesday that requires people stay six feet away from each other in public for 30 days. The city could close a business that violates the order, which is a misdemeanor.


Another caller asked the governor how Idaho will handle a potential crush of hospitalizations in a state that doesn’t have enough beds or intensive care rooms to handle a mass outbreak of coronavirus.


“We don’t think it will [get to that point] and we’re trying to do all we can to not have it [come to that],” Little said, noting he had recently requested additional ventilators from President Trump.


“We have a number of options, many more than I think we all collectively realized, of how we can expand needed bed capacity should we need to,” added Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.


None of those strategies were shared on the call, nor how many ventilators Idaho might expect to receive from federal sources – a stockpile that could be insufficient depending on how hard the country is hit by the virus.

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

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