On Wednesday, COVID-19 for the first time killed more Americans in a day than 9/11.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported Thursday that COVID-19 has surpassed heart disease as the state’s leading cause of death.
Hospitals in Idaho are overwhelmed and already rationing care. Health and Welfare this week passed a new rule that will expedite the process for declaring Crisis Standards of Care, a point-scoring system that will determine which lives doctors will attempt to save.
Also this week, Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman and far-right Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, went on the BBC to become laughingstock examples of the absurd failure of Idaho’s response.
Hoffman claimed masks don’t work, opposite to the advice given by every major public health agency, and said the virus wasn’t so bad. He said he agreed to wear a mask to hold his grandchild because his daughter made him, but he said he wouldn’t show the same care to strangers in a store. Giddings said she had seen “studies” (by which we assume she meant YouTube videos or Facebook posts) showing there have been no excess deaths this year. Numbers from the Department of Health and Welfare show there are have been over 1,000 more deaths than expected this year, and more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths. The national figures indicate that, if anything, the number of COVID-19 deaths are being undercounted.
But it’s hard to blame the BBC for picking Hoffman and Giddings to make Idaho look foolish on the world stage. They made us look no more foolish than we are.
When the Idaho Legislature met for its organizational session, relatively few lawmakers wore masks. House Speaker Scott Bedke has said lawmakers, who travel weekly to and from their districts, can convene without masks, allowing the Capitol to act as a beating heart, gathering infection together and pushing it out to all corners of the state. When Central Health District attempted to implement some modest restrictions this week, anti-mask protestors forced the meeting to be stopped by terrorizing young children at home alone.
It’s become a familiar pattern. Hoffman and those of his ilk spread lies about the pandemic. The protestors take up those falsehoods and lead campaigns of intimidation to hobble any effective response to the pandemic at the local level. And so they are deeply culpable for the wave of death that is bearing down on us.
But the greatest power, and the greatest portion of blame, belongs to Gov. Brad Little.
Little knows mask-wearing, avoiding gatherings, hand hygiene and other simple measures are proven, effective ways of mitigating spread. But he wants to achieve them by talking rather than enforcement, a step taken by Republican governors in Wyoming, Utah and countless other states.
“What I want is compliance,” an exasperated Little said at a press conference. “That’s why we’ve changed our messaging.”
How is it possible that Little has not learned by now that there’s no talking our way out of this mess? Many people in Idaho are wearing masks. Many are avoiding gatherings. Many are doing their part. There just aren’t enough. The ones who refuse have heard the same message and decided they don’t believe it or want to ignore it, and the virus spreads.
Shockingly, on the same day Little could muster no more will to fight the coronavirus than to hold a press conference, he did have the will to join an utterly frivolous lawsuit purportedly aiming to overturn the presidential election results. The lawsuit was not serious, which is why the supermajority Republican Supreme Court laughed it off. It was a song and dance aimed at placating President Donald Trump and his base.
At the moment Idaho most needed governance, what it got instead from our sensible, policy-wonk governor was theater.
So we will have death panels.
If your mother has a heart attack, someone will have to assign her a point score designating how likely she is to survive. If it isn’t high enough, she might not get an ICU bed, and a COVID-19 patient will get it instead. We will ask the nurses and doctors who’ve broken their backs trying to save us to make that Sophie’s choice over, and over, and over.
And because we are still, as cases continue to skyrocket, failing to take any serious measures to arrest the spread of the virus, we will probably have those death panels for a long time. This is the hell we have made for ourselves, and we will live in it.
Except, of course, for those vulnerable among us — who won’t.