Gov. Brad Little issued a grim new warning about Idaho’s worsening coronavirus crisis Thursday.
But the governor announced no new policies to address a virus that has claimed the lives of more than 1,100 Idahoans — including more than 100 people in the past week.
“This enemy, the plague, continues to advance,” Little said during a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon.
According to several key metrics, that advance is occurring at a rapid pace. For the past two days, the state has reported more than 2,000 new cases daily, record numbers in the state’s nine-month battle with the coronavirus. In November, COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in Idaho. As health care workers fight to save lives, many Idaho health care leaders are saying hospital COVID-19 units and intensive care units are nearing the breaking point.
Little’s news conference focused on that breaking point — and the growing possibility that the state might need to impose crisis standards of hospital care. In essence, that means overburdened hospitals would begin to ration care. Some patients might be treated not in hospital rooms but in converted conference rooms, if they are admitted at all. It might take longer for paramedics to arrive to help a cardiac patient or stroke victim. And hospitals might provide ICU space or ventilators to patients who have a better chance of survival.
“The hospitals are not fudging the numbers,” said Little, in a direct reference to Idahoans who questioning the severity of the pandemic. “This situation will affect you personally, whether you get COVID or not.”
On Thursday, Little said Idaho will remain in a modified version of Stage 2 of the state’s four-step reopening plan. The designation does not affect day-to-day classroom operations, but it does restrict many public and private gatherings of more than 10 people. Earlier Thursday, the State Board of Education clarified the fact that this restriction applies to spectators at school sporting events and extracurricular activities.
Little did not speak much about schools Thursday, beyond discussing the stakes for education in general terms. Schools “cannot effectively operate” if teachers are home sick and students are home in quarantine, Little said.
For much of the news conference, Little took a battery of questions about facemasks, and voiced continued reservations about a statewide mandate.
Little conceded that he has the authority to require face coverings — and while refusing to elaborate, he suggested that there might be a public health threshold that would trigger a statewide move.
But he repeatedly said that he still believes Idahoans are more likely to accept local mask requirements.
“It is not that I want to dump it on the schools or dump it on the health districts,” Little said. “The secret is compliance.”
Citing the rising case numbers — and the prospect of rationed hospital care — a Democratic lawmaker lambasted Little.
“A statewide mask mandate is the only option Idaho has left to reduce the coronavirus death toll,” said sen. David Nelson of Moscow. “Governor Little needs to exercise courage and compassion to save human lives. We cannot keep making the same decision every two weeks and expect different results.”