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Gov. Little defends lack of mask mandate despite hospitals nearing capacity

Idaho's governor has declined to require mask-wearing in the state, even as Kootenai Health has suspended elective surgeries.

SPOKANE, Wash — Idaho Governor Brad Little stopped in Coeur d'Alene on Friday morning to discuss the state's COVID response, answering questions on issues such as vaccines and masks.

Little has still refused to mandate masks be worn in Idaho, even as case numbers continue to rise and hospitalizations soar to the point where Kootenai Health has suspended elective surgeries.

"There's a reason Idaho's the least-regulated state in the nation. It's what people expect," said Little. "It's what we do, is try to have the minimum amount of regulation. What we've done recently, what our administration and my healthcare team have done recently, is try to do a much better job of messaging."

Rather than executive action, the governor is choosing to simply attempt to use persuasion to get Idahoans to mask up and maintain distance.

"We've just got to do the right thing for 80, 90, 100 days and get those numbers down," he said. "And kids will be back in school, people will be healthy, and the economy, our prosperity we had before the pandemic will reoccur."

Little argues that Idahoans are more responsive to government on the local level.

"People are much more included to respond to a mandate if it's the city council and the mayor that their kids go to school with or they see at church," he said.

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However, the vast majority of Idaho governments have also refused to require masks.

Messaging will also be a big part of the vaccination process in Idaho. The state already has a robust anti-vaccine movement, but Little said he's confident people will quickly see the COVID immunization is safe.

"The fact that it's that effective, I think the fact that it's not a live vaccine, and I think the fact that people are going to be able to see that they don't have to be fearful… all of those [mean] we're going to have a higher compliance than maybe I was worried about to begin with," he said.

Earlier this week, Little got frustrating news about the Pfizer vaccine, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informed states their next allotment will be significantly smaller than expected. Little said it was actually the second time he'd gotten such news.

"Originally, we thought we were going to get about 25, 30,000 doses. Then we went down to 17,000, and now we've got less," he said. "But right on its heels is the Moderna vaccine, which is going to be available for us to get further out in the rural Inner Mountain West."

He said Moderna's version is more suitable for Idaho because it doesn't require the same high-intensity freezers as the Pfizer vaccine.

"Obviously Bonner, Boundary, Shoshone County... they don't have the ability to keep that vaccine at -90 degrees Fahrenheit," said Little. "You don't buy those freezers at Home Depot."


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