BOISE, Idaho — As confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus continue to climb in Idaho and across the nation, the state has not enacted statewide closures for restaurants, bars, or other businesses.
Idaho also hasn't enacted a statewide shelter-in-place order as some other states have. These decisions have been left largely to local governments and health districts.
A Boise physician told KTVB on Tuesday that she and other doctors want to see Idaho leaders enact more aggressive statewide orders. Dr. Heather Hammerstedt says that includes a statewide shelter-in-place order, similar to those in effect in other states.
“I know what’s happening in reality,” Hammerstedt said. “I know it’s going to happen here if we don’t take more aggressive action.”
In a telephone town hall on Tuesday, Idahoans got a chance to ask questions of Gov. Brad Little, Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen, and State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn.
They took a wide range of questions from people all over the state. During the town hall, Little defended his decision to not enact statewide orders.
“We’re following CDC guidance on when we do closures, following CDC guidance on what we do,” he said to a caller. “The whole statewide is social distancing for these 15 days to stop the spread.”
A reporter for KTVB called into the town hall to try and ask questions. The line to ask questions was too long so the reporter never got a chance to ask anything.
To start out the call, Jeppesen said an isolation order will come down for an area when they've identified community spread there. This is what was done in Blaine County last week.
“We feel really good we are testing the right people,” he said. “We have a very good handle on who is likely to have the virus and we are catching those folks as they come through.”
Hammerstedt disagrees with the notion that a shelter-in-place order or isolation order should come down after community spread is identified.
“Because if we don't know across the country how many people have the disease because no one has enough tests, then the idea that we're only testing people who travel doesn't make any sense because we don't know who has it and where,” she said.
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According to Hammerstedt, the state simply asking people to social distance and limit the number of times they leave their house isn't enough. That’s why she wants to see a statewide order.
“If someone is just asking you to do something, there is still this prevalent feeling that it's a hoax or it’s not really that serious,” she said. “If it was that serious, they would've told us to do something different.”
The doctor added that unless Idahoans take social distancing more seriously, the virus will make more and more people sick and it will overwhelm hospital facilities.
“I think being more forceful so people understand, we really have the ability if we act in the next few days to drastically change the outcome we will be having in the next three to four weeks in our hospitals,” she said.
The state has continued to ask Idahoans of all ages to practice social distancing and follow CDC guidelines for personal hygiene.
“Take every single precaution you can, particularly if you don’t feel well,” Little said. “Not only if you’re in that population, but if you’re younger you may be a perfectly fit 20-year-old and not feel good and impact some other perfectly fit 20-year-old but that 20-year-old may go home to an older person or someone that is compromised.”
Hammerstedt was also concerned about a shortage of personal protective equipment, like respirators, for healthcare workers. She wants the state to communicate better with the physician community about a plan on those shortages.
“In Idaho, we’re at mile one of a marathon when it comes to this,” she said. “We’re already worried about shortages in our hospitals and clinics.”
In the town hall, both Little and Jeppesen said the state is working very hard to address the shortage and get critical supplies to where they are needed.
“We are scouring the world and the state for supplies,” Jeppesen said.
He added that local Idaho companies are coming forward with ideas to manufacture more PPE, or where to find more. He also added the state is waiting on a second shipment of supplies from the national stockpile.
The state also has a way to monitor the protective equipment each hospital has, and what their burn rate is. Hospitals can fill out forms through their local health district if they need more supplies from the state.
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