BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Healthcare leaders pleaded for a statewide mask mandate on Tuesday, saying it’s the best way to slow a rapid increase in coronavirus cases.
The officials from the five largest medical care providers in southwestern Idaho also urged residents to push local and state leaders for mandates. Gov. Brad Little has so far been unswayed, though he has encouraged residents to wear masks.
“Gov. Little has no plans for a state-wide mask mandate in Idaho at this time,” his spokeswoman, Marissa Morrison, said a statement Tuesday. She said he supports local municipalities that want to impose mask orders.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state has nearly doubled in the past two weeks, with more than 11,400 cases on Tuesday according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The state has seen an average of nearly 453 new cases every day during the past two weeks, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
Little issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 25, but largely lifted the order in stages over the next several weeks. Idaho is now in the fourth and final stage of Little’s reopening plan, with most businesses allowed to operate as usual as long as they can adhere to some physical distancing and sanitation requirements.
Some lawmakers on the far-right side of the Republican party, including Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, have repeatedly criticzed the governor for temporarily closing some businesses and taking other measures to slow the spread of the virus. Little has now largely handed over decisions about additional restrictions to officials at each of the state’s seven regional health districts.
That approach isn’t effective, St. Luke’s Health System CEO Chris Roth said.
“They’re not coordinated, they’re not consistent and we have a patchwork as a result,” Roth said. “The governor, to his credit, is wearing a mask - he’s leading by example, as are his colleagues. However, we would like to see more state action as it relates to mandates, that leads to a coordinated response.”
The hospital system’s current projections show the number of patients admitted for coronavirus-related symptoms is expected to double every two weeks.
“If we do not reverse this trend, we are headed for a crisis,” he said. “We’re calling on all members of the community to contact your local and state officials, boards … all those that have power to make policy. Please contact them and urge them to require the use of face covers.”
At least 760 healthcare workers in Idaho have contracted coronavirus so far, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Additional illnesses among healthcare workers could limit how many patients hospitals and doctor’s offices can treat.
On Monday, a pediatric nurse practitioner who worked in Caldwell died from complications of coronavirus. Samantha Hickey was 45, and her husband and four kids said she would have wanted her death to serve as a reminder that people must do whatever they can to protect themselves during the pandemic.
“First of all, absolutely, we have to wear masks. We have to social distance and we have to wash our hands,. We have to be very careful about congregating inside, because we know that leads to more spread,” Primary Health Medical Group CEO Dr. David Peterman said. “There needs to be mandates for masking. We need all of us to help slow this virus.”
This story has been updated to correct the final quote to read, “We need all of us to help slow this virus.” An earlier version incorrectly used the word “solve” in place of “slow.”
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