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article imageIdaho county hit by COVID-19 surge drops mask mandate

By Karen Graham     Oct 23, 2020 in Health
Boise - Moments after hearing an Idaho hospital was overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and looking at sending people as far away as Seattle for care, members of a regional health department board voted Thursday to repeal a local mask mandate.
Kootenai County is the third-most populous county in the state of Idaho, and according to the Spokesman-Review, a mask mandate was first implemented in July following a spike in COVID-19 cases. And while the mask mandate was meant to stop the spread of the virus, it was widely ignored and not enforced.
On Thursday, the Kootenai County health board voted 4-3 to overturn the mask mandate one day after the hospital in Coeur d'Alene reported that it was at 99 percent capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic - even after doubling up patients in rooms and buying more hospital beds.
"Most of our medical-surgical beds at Kootenai Health are full," Panhandle Health District epidemiologist Jeff Lee told board members on Thursday. "We're facing staff shortages, and we have a lot of physician fatigue. This has been going on for seven months — we're tired," Lee said, per CBS News.
Dr. Lee introduced several other doctors who testified before the board, explaining the struggle COVID-19 patients face, the burden on hospitals, and how masks reduce the spread of the virus.
Board member Walt Kirby said he was giving up on the idea of controlling the spread of coronavirus. "I personally do not care whether anybody wears a mask or not. If they want to be dumb enough to walk around and expose themselves and others, that's fine with me," Kirby said. "Nobody's wearing the damned mask anyway... I'm sitting back and watching them catch it and die. Hopefully, I'll live through it."
Allen Banks, also a health board member denied that the coronavirus even exists. "Something's making these people sick, and I'm pretty sure that it's not coronavirus, so the question that you should be asking is, 'What's making them sick?'" he told the medical professionals who testified.
A medical worker takes a nasal swab sample from a student to test for COVID-19 in New York City.
A medical worker takes a nasal swab sample from a student to test for COVID-19 in New York City.
Angela Weiss, AFP
And health board member Glen Bailey proposed ending the mandate, arguing that it “restricts people’s right of choice and ability to comply or not comply under penalty of law,” per The Hill.
In Idaho, health board members overseeing the operations of Idaho's public health districts are appointed by county commissioners and not required to have any medical experience. Idaho is sixth in the nation for new coronavirus cases per capita, with the average number of confirmed cases increasing by more than 55 percent every day over the past two weeks.
According to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker, as of Friday, October 23, Idaho has 56,600 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 553 deaths. A total of 363,048 people have been tested for the virus.
And despite all the figures pointing to the surge in coronavirus cases, Idaho's Republican Governor Brad Little has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate or limit crowd sizes beyond requiring social distancing at large events and in businesses, which is seldom enforced, per CBS News.
All across Idaho, a very conservative state, to be sure, public safety has taken a backseat to any mandates, orders or recommendations meant to protect the public from the coronavirus, basically leaving people to get sick, and even die from the disease.
There has been a huge amount of public backlash over the health board’s decision. The Panhandle Health District issued a public statement alerting people that its coronavirus hotline “is mainly staffed with volunteers that have nothing to do with the Board’s decisions.”
"They manage their fair share of angry callers with grace and patience, but please direct comments about the board meeting to the board,” the notice said.
More about coronavitus, Kootenai County, mask mandate, hospitals at capacity, spike in cases
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