Give the people leading Idaho’s Legislature their due.
In calling for a two-week recess beginning Friday, the GOP leadership abandoned nonsensical rhetoric and responded to the realities of living in a COVID-19 pandemic.
Within the previous seven days, the number of COVID-19 infections had grown to include six House members, two House staffers and one Senate staffer — in addition to a pair of senators, three more House staffers and two Senate attachés who came down with the coronavirus since the session convened in early January.
The numbers were not quite exponential, but the situation was serious, especially considering the circumstances: a large gathering under close quarters in which facemask wearing and social distancing were disregarded. In fact, many of the stricken legislators had eschewed mask wearing.
Even more commendable was the fact that in shutting down the Legislature until April 6, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, were confronting a sizeable portion of their party’s political base. Among them were COVID-19 skeptics who were determined to repudiate the rationale for preemptive actions taken by Gov. Brad Little while erasing the governor’s authority to act in future emergencies.
- “I think if you look at the facts and the numbers for the state, by all means, the sick emergency is over,” Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, declared two months ago. “Maybe there’s a debate right now on do we still want to keep getting the money. That’s a different story. But the pandemic is over by all means.”
- “You may say that this is all COVID’s fault,” Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman wrote at the same time. “Folks, it is not. It is — all of it is — the fault of the government. Government overreach. Government manipulation of facts and data, and refusal to own up to the truth of that.
“Gov. Little says, well, COVID-19 is an emergency. And yes, it is true that people have gotten sick and people have died. But this is an emergency manufactured — and blown out of proportion — by the government. It was an emergency manufactured for political purposes.”
- “Of course, it’s all about money,” Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said during last summer’s special legislative session. “The institutions want the money. The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have been perfectly clear; cloth masks are of no value. N95 masks are of no value. ... It’s a political statement either way.”
- “The fact that a pandemic may or may not be occurring changes nothing about the meaning or the intent of the state’s constitution and the preservation of our inalienable rights,” state Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, said in an IFF video last year.
This demonstration of resolute legislative leadership also stands in contrast to the premature victory lap many across the state are taking. This includes Lewiston, where the city council lifted its mask mandate on Monday, and eastern Idaho, where health department officials took a similar step earlier this month. Since then, infections surged in Idaho Falls and Rexburg. The New York Times ranked the communities nationally No. 1 and No. 3 respectively for new outbreaks per capita.
But when it came to the health of their own members and staff, the legislative leadership acted reasonably.
That it got to this point should serve as a cautionary tale for the rest of us.
Disregard those who tell you COVID-19 is a hoax.
Pay no attention to anyone, regardless of medical credentials, who suggests it’s no worse than the flu. Not only is it extremely contagious, it’s more lethal: Of the 29.8 million Americans infected in the past year, at least 542,991 have died, more than the number of U.S. deaths that occurred during four years of fighting World War II.
And COVID-19 fatigue aside, this pandemic is far from over.
So take it seriously.
Wear a mask.
Practice social distancing.
Wash your hands.
If sick or exposed to someone who has COVID-19, isolate.
And when it’s available, get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Don’t follow what these legislators have said; watch what they have done.
And act accordingly. — M.T.