Idahoans express concern over coronavirus testing

Idahoans expressed concerns over a lack of coronavirus testing during a one-hour town hall teleconference with Gov. Brad Little Tuesday.

Gov. Brad Little

Callers raised other recurring concerns. They said they were worried about obtaining groceries and basic supplies and caring for family members who are elderly or who do not have healthy immune systems.

Coordinated by AARP Idaho, the town hall teleconference allowed Idahoans to pose questions directly to Little. State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn and Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen also responded to questions.

The questions were asked somewhat anonymously; callers were introduced by their first name and, usually, their town of residence.

In response to concerns from an Eastern Idaho woman who said she’d been told to quarantine for 10 days while awaiting results, Hahn said test results should be available within a day or two. Nevertheless, Hahn said testing is a major problem.

“You bring up probably one of the biggest challenges of the entire response throughout the country,” Hahn said. “As you are probably aware, testing has been very problematic.”

Hahn said Idaho’s state lab was one of the first labs in the country to offer testing.

“So we’re actually doing better than many other states,” Hahn said.

“We had a long meeting yesterday working with hospitals and others to try to improve testing,” she continued.

One issue did not come up Tuesday: Little’s decision not to order a statewide school closure. Little left that decision to local school leaders; a majority of districts have closed or are closing.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, Idaho is reporting eight confirmed coronavirus cases. According to the state’s coronavirus website, the state’s lab has conducted 295 tests and commercial labs have conducted 58 tests. The state indicates it has been monitoring 76 people, 39 of whom are no longer being monitored by Idaho public health officials.

Over the last several weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life all around the world, from the cancelation of professional sporting events to statewide school closures in more than 20 states to government orders closing restaurants in neighboring Washington and elsewhere.

Little has stressed that he is trying to help slow the spread of the virus so Idaho’s health care facilities will not be overwhelmed. But even so, cases are expected to rise.

“We are doing all we can to be prepared for an increase, we know there is going to be an increase,” Little said. “Our goal is to take that increase and spread it over enough period of time to where our health care capacity can handle it. Testing is going to go up.”

In responding to questions, Little urged Idahoans to practice “significant social distancing” as a way to help slow the spread of the virus. When a caller asked how to gently tell family and friends not to visit her 93-year-old mother during the pandemic, Little told her to be assertive, while Health and Welfare officials recommended phone calls instead of in-person visits.

“Tell ‘em the governor says so,” Little said.

When asked if Idaho should prepare for widespread restaurant closures, Little said, “It is imprudent to categorically put all of the state in one area.” The situation in one town or city may be different than others in the state. But, he said, it’s best to prepare.

“The message to people to be prepared for that to happen is a very prudent thing and right now we are deferring to local government,” Little said. “As the situation changes we are reassessing it actually multiple times a day.”

Little also stressed it is important to find childcare for the children of health care workers who may have been forced to stay home due to local school closures.

One caller voiced his frustrations. He said that Little should be prepared to call out the National Guard to respond to the crisis and questioned whether state officials are taking the matter seriously.

Since Friday, Little and Health and Welfare officials have offered several pieces of advice to help limit the spread of the virus:

  • Wash your hands with soap regularly.
  • Cover all coughs and sneezes.
  • Do not go out in public if you are sick or displaying symptoms.
  • Avoid others who are sick or displaying symptoms.
  • Practice significant social distancing in an effort to reduce spread of the virus.

Little has scheduled another news conference for 10 a.m. Wednesday to provide additional coronavirus updates to the public.

  • Click here for our updated map of school closures.
  • Click here for the state’s coronavirus website.
  • Click here for the state’s guidance to schools.
  • Click here for all of Idaho Education News’s coronavirus coverage.
Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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