The state of Idaho has become a pandemic basket case.

We’ve allowed COVID-19 to take more than half as many Idahoans’ lives as did the four years of World War II.

As we crossed the mark of 800 deaths last week, the response from essentially all levels of Idaho government ranged from sitting on their hands to actively making things worse.

The Southwest Health District’s board invited “expert” testimony on the pandemic from a family physician who suggested cell phone towers might be tied to COVID-19 and an unlicensed naturopath who specializes in inflating colons and bladders with ozone, as the Idaho Statesman reported. Predictably, these quacks did not recommend mask enforcement, and the district took no steps in that direction.

The Rexburg City Council caved to anti-maskers, failing to protect its community.

Boise set a good example by finally directing enforcement of mask mandates, a minimally burdensome and effective means of combatting the pandemic, and Pocatello also passed a mandate with fines for failing to wear masks. (Let’s hope the city of Idaho Falls will follow their example and enforce a mask mandate).

But the actions of Boise and Pocatello likely won’t be enough to save their hospitals without similar actions throughout the state, since hospitals report that they are being slammed not only with local patients but with patients from outlying areas, where officials appear content to do nothing and force others to deal with the consequences.

That is why Gov. Brad Little bears ultimate responsibility for this looming disaster. His refusal to take responsibility for fighting this pandemic has left the task to local officials, and the few local officials who have chosen to act don’t have the power necessary to solve the problem. Only statewide, enforced mandates have a chance of working — and they’re many weeks overdue.

Because Little has waited so long to take this step, it is nearly certain that another lockdown will be needed once the health care system is in chaos.

How long can we expect doctors and nurses to continue performing their grueling, traumatic duties when we won’t do anything to help them?

How long can we expect out-of-state hospitals to go out of their way to help us when we won’t do anything to help ourselves?

Here’s what’s coming: Imagine your father starts having symptoms of a heart attack. You have come to expect that you can call 911 to have him rushed to a hospital where he can quickly receive life-saving treatment. You can’t count on that any longer.

One day soon, all the ambulances may be busy at that time, as the Idaho Falls Fire Department warned last week, so you’ll have to drive him to an emergency room, and he won’t get life-supporting care en route to the hospital. If he survives the drive, you may find that the ER, too, is overwhelmed, and you need to wait for triage to determine whether your father or some other patient should be treated, a possibility hospitals say grows nearer by the day.

Masks are not a panacea, but in combination with social distancing, handwashing and other interventions, there’s a great deal of evidence that the rate of COVID-19 spread can be brought down substantially.

That’s never been more crucial than it is now. We are almost daily breaking records for new infections, hospitalizations and deaths — while it looks increasingly likely that vaccines will go into widespread distribution in a few months.

Every one of our neighbors we allow to die now through inaction is one who likely would have lived a long time if we cared enough to stop it.

The question for all of us now is: Do we care?

The Post Register’s editorial board consists of Publisher Travis Quast, Managing Editor Monte LaOrange and editorial writer Bryan Clark. Clark can be reached at 208-542-6751.

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