Faced with a third wave of COVID-19, Gov. Brad Little on Friday sounded like someone who believes Idaho is ungovernable.
Could you blame him?
The news is getting worse. Johns Hopkins University says Idaho has the fifth highest rate of positive COVID-19 test results in the country. With a 42 percent positivity rate, Idaho falls behind Kansas at 43.8 percent, Iowa at 51.7 percent, South Dakota at 57.5 percent and Wyoming at 62.9 percent. Of the five, only Kansas has a mask mandate. But according to AARP, a state law stripped Gov. Laura Kelly of the power to enforce her July 2 order.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Idaho has the 16th highest seven-day average of new cases per 100,000. At 74.3 per 100,000, Idaho’s rate is three times that of Washington state (24.6 per 100,000) and Oregon (22.1 per 100,000), where Govs. Jay Inlsee and Kate Brown, respectively, have imposed tougher restrictions that include a requirement that people cover their faces in public.
Hospitals may not have enough equipment or medical staff to handle the surge in COVID-19 cases. The State of Idaho Disaster Medical Advisory Committee has warned the governor that it may have to implement plans to ration lifesaving care based on such factors as a patient’s age and his prospects for survival.
Idaho is the outlier. Except for Wyoming, all of its neighbors have been under statewide face mask orders.
Yet, community after community refuses to adhere to health care professionals’ pleas. In Twin Falls, a crowd of COVID-19 deniers browbeat the city council into submission last week. Six of the seven councilors tabled a face mask ordinance.
Lewiston abandoned a so-called “advisory” face mask order, although the issue is up for discussion at a special meeting on Thursday.
After being shamed by Inslee — whose hospitals are accepting Idaho patients — the Panhandle Health District has not reversed its decision last month to rescind a face mask rule.
Even in communities that have required citizens to don a mask in public, there’s not much backing it up. When the Idaho Statesman took a look last week, it found that the Ada County Sheriff’s Office and the Boise Police Department had issued not even one citation. Members of the Christ Church in Moscow openly flouted that community’s face mask mandate right in front of city hall. Lack of enforcement explains why a face mask mandate has not protected Madison County from becoming a hot spot of infection.
Every step Little takes is met with political reprisals, whether it’s from chaos agent Ammon Bundy, Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin — or the hundreds of coronavirus-deniers who protest on their behalf.
Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, seem to be at a loss for an answer — other than to trim back the governor’s emergency powers at the earliest opportunity.
So Little has resorted to gestures.
He mobilized about 100 members of the Idaho National Guard to assist medical facilities. But unless those National Guard members are critical care physicians, intensive care unit nurses or respiratory therapists, it’s questionable how much they can relieve the strain on health care staff.
Little moved the state back to Stage 2 of its Idaho Rebounds reopening plan. This time, however, bars and restaurants will remain open. Limiting crowd sizes to 10 people won’t apply to religious or political events. No business will be closed.
And when it came to masks, the governor threw up his hands because he doubted an order would make any difference.
“Half of Idaho’s population is under a local ordinance requiring masks, but we are seeing noncompliance with those local orders. Or, people are wearing their masks in public but then take them off in social settings where the virus is more likely to spread,” Little said. “Law enforcement can cite individuals for violating local ordinances, but law enforcement cannot be everywhere all the time. That is why I maintain this comes down to personal responsibility. Please, wear a mask whenever you’re around another person who is not in your household so we can protect lives, preserve health care access for all of us and continue our economic rebound.”
What is it that makes Idaho so ungovernable?
Is it because the state is made up of ornery people who can’t see the difference between cooperation and coercion?
Or could it simply be a governor who has chosen not to govern? — M.T.