Idahoans asked Gov. Brad Little Tuesday why he hasn’t ordered statewide closures and how they can take steps to safeguard themselves amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For the second week in a row, Little fielded questions from Idahoans as a part of a one-hour telephone town hall meeting coordinated by AARP Idaho.
Little also heard from a concerned Blaine County resident. A member of a small hospital board said her hospital was short on personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
Throughout, Little emphasized the state’s strategy to follow the latest Centers For Disease Control prevention guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, preserve health care capacity and protect Idahoans who are older or may have a weakened immune system.
In order to do that, Little said everybody has a role to play.
“Take every single precaution you can,” Little said. “Particularly if you don’t feel well. Not only if you’re in that population, but if you’re younger…”
On the call, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen announced the state laboratory’s testing capacity has increased, and it has now tested more than 1,000 Idahoans.
Here’s a sampling of the questions Little received, edited for length and clarity:
Question: Why aren’t you ordering statewide closures, rather than this patchwork quilt of school districts having to make decisions where there wasn’t a lot of knowledge or training?
Little: “We’ve got areas that are very isolated. My decision was they need to get things in the queue. They need to have their students be prepared for being out of school at another time. They need to be prepared to continue to deliver education remotely. And they need to tell those kids about all these hygiene efforts that we talked about at the beginning of this call. That was a formulated plan by us. I talked to all the superintendents and all the trustees said ‘you’ve got to look at it as a case-by-case basis.’”
Question: I’d like to know if you are going to do some type of travel ban? We see people coming from all over the place to come here to vacation in McCall.
Little: “I did see the city fathers and mothers in McCall made a pronouncement, and that’s fully within their right. We are trying to get people to stay where they are in many aspects.
You know, the United States is a little different country than some of these other countries. There are things embedded into our constitution about freedom that are a point of issue that I have talked to other governors about. But we always have to remind people about what the right thing to do is, particularly if they come from an area where they have had spread.”
Multiple questions: Why is the Boise airport not closed? Why is the airport serving Blaine County not closed?
Little: “We did declare a state of emergency and we’re under a state of emergency at this point…. But you’ve got to realize we’ve got critical supplies coming into the state and we’ve got critical testing that’s going out of state, so we need air transportation. What is critical is people, if they come from an area where they’ve had a problem, that they self-isolate.”
Question: I am a member of our hospital board in Oneida County. We need help. We are desperate for personal protection equipment (PPE) supplies. We just need supplies. Face masks. Gowns. How can we get them faster?
Little: “We are doing lots of things on PPE. We have the same frustration. We were on a call with all the hospital administrators. We know that the inventory is low, particularly if you are talking about a surge capacity. We have gotten a second shipment from the strategic stockpile but that is not enough. We are actually gearing up some of the Idaho companies to make some of the more critical PPE devices.”
During the call, Little and Jeppesen reiterated several pieces of guidance:
- Maintain social distancing of six feet and avoid groups larger than 10.
- Don’t visit the elderly or nursing homes unless it is to provide critical care.
- Work from home if possible.
- Wash your hands with soap regularly.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Avoid people who are sick or showing symptoms. Avoid others if you are sick or showing symptoms.
As of Tuesday morning, the state and its local public health districts reported 76 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Idaho. An additional update is expected at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
This month, Little has provided numerous updates to Idahoans about the state’s efforts to slow the spread of the virus.
- On March 13, he conducted two press conferences from the Statehouse. During one, he declared a state of emergency. During the other, he announced Idaho’s first positive confirmed case.
- On March 15, he conducted a teleconference with school administrators where he said he would not issue a statewide order to close schools.
- On March 17, he conducted the first telephone town hall meeting.
- On Wednesday, Little conducted a press conference from the Statehouse where he issued additional recommendations, including working from home when possible and avoiding groups of more than 10.
- On Thursday he announced the state was issuing a shelter-in-place isolation order for Blaine County due to community spread of coronavirus.
- On Friday, Little toured public health districts across the state, met with health care officials and gave interviews to the local news media.
- On Monday, Little conducted a press conference from the Statehouse, where he signed two proclamations but declined to call for statewide closures of schools, restaurants and bars. The same day, the State Board of Education issued a directive for schools to begin soft closures, which will last until April 20.
Click here for all of Idaho Education News’ coronavirus coverage.
Click here for the state’s coronavirus website, which tracks positive cases and testing data, but which lags behind reports issued by local health districts.