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Gov. Brad Little announces Idaho will stay in Stage 2, focuses on compliance of local orders over issuing statewide mandate

The governor held a virtual press conference to update Idahoans about the current status of the coronavirus pandemic in the Gem State.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little held a virtual press conference on Thursday and announced Idaho would stay in Stage 2 of his reopening plan. Idaho first rolled back to Stage 2 on Nov. 13.

"We're marshaling all our forces. And yet, the enemy, this plague, continues to advance," he said. "It would be hard for anyone to say the state of Idaho hasn't done all we can to prepare our hospitals and elevate capacity."

Gov. Little also warned that Idaho is creeping towards a crisis standard of care in the state's hospitals. Crisis standard of care is when healthcare workers ration resources and treatments based on survivability.

"Here is what it means to you and your loved ones to reach them. If your son or daughter gets in a car accident, a hospital bed may not be available for your child. Or your child will have received care in a repurposed conference, your child may have to wait for a procedure to repair their injury until care returns to normal. If your wife is diabetic and has had an infection, she may not get a hospital. If your husband has a stroke or heart attack, paramedics may not be able to arrive quick, leaving him to wait longer for him," he said. "Breathing machines or ICU beds you may need to be directed to those patients who are most likely to survive because there aren't the staff to run, while patients are deemed less likely to survive may not receive. I want to command our hospitals across the state are working around the clock to share resources, so we can avoid his devastating situations as much as possible."

To help explain the serious situation Idaho is in, Governor Little again invited guests from the medical community to share their experiences during the virtual news conference.  

Kristen Connelly, an ICU nurse at St. Luke’s, described the harsh reality she deals with every day. People are dying of COVID-19 right in front of them, and hospitals are running out of space and resources to treat patients.

On a statewide platform, Connelly told the story of their effort to save one of the very many patients they have, a mother of a young child.

"We gave her everything at our disposal to help her survive this and she fought, and she fought so hard and she fought for every breath that she took and in the end we couldn't save her,” Connelly said. “In the end she couldn't go home to her family. She couldn't go home to that baby who will never her mom. This is one story and you can walk into the COVID ICU and go from room to room to room to room and you can see this level of suffering and fear and isolation."

The governor also invited Dr. Robert Scoggins from Kootenai Health to explain where they sit in terms of healthcare capacity in North Idaho.

"We have been challenged on a daily basis at this point. At some point I'm concerned we won't have a place to send these patients and as Governor Little has spoken about that's when the crisis standards of care become important,” Scoggins said. “Me personally, I'd like to avoid that. I think that we are ready for this to be over, never really wanted it to happen, but we don't get to ignore it in the hospital these patients come in and we have to take care of them and we can't deny that this virus exists we have to deal with the patients and take care of them."

Throughout the rest of the press conference, Gov. Little answered several questions on why he hasn't issued a statewide face mask mandate to slow the pandemic. He repeatedly said he is focused on compliance with local health orders, rather than a statewide mandate.

"My goal is to get compliance. That's where we've changed our messaging, that's been, we have been talking about it since last spring about what behavioral modifications people need so that we can keep the people of Idaho safe," he said. 

However, it seems the state still has plenty of work ahead of itself with its messaging. Little added that some counties are still having a difficult time getting people to follow local public health orders.

"I've got counties that have got mask orders, local, by the people they know right there, and there's no compliance, I'm trying to help the messaging, whether it be a school district, whether it be a county, whether it be a health district, to get that compliance that we need, but we've done a lot of things to increase health care capacity."

The governor was asked several more times about the lack of a statewide mandate but went back to the same points. 

It's first up to local health districts to issue public health orders and the state will support health districts with messaging and hospital capacity. However, the state won't help with the enforcement of local public health orders, such as face mask mandates. Little also pointed to the lack of compliance with the local orders for the reason not to issue a statewide one.

"If the decision point for me was 'I take the heat, rather than the rest of them,' I would do it," he said. "The decision point for me is how do I get compliance. That's the critical tipping point for me, how do I get compliance. If the people in some of those communities won't do what their neighbors tell them to do, you [Brian Holmes], you made the point, what do you think's going to happen if that order comes from Boise, Idaho?"

The Joint Democratic Caucus of the Idaho Legislature released a statement Thursday afternoon urging the governor to "exercise courage" and implement a statewide mask mandate:

"A statewide mask mandate is the only option Idaho has left to reduce the coronavirus death toll," Sen. David Nelson (D-Moscow) said in the statement. "Governor Little needs to exercise courage and compassion to save human lives. We cannot keep making the same decision every two weeks and expect different results. Over 2,000 Idahoans tested positive for Covid-19 yesterday, and our hospitals are inches away from implementing a crisis standard of care. Idaho hospitals may not be able to provide lifesaving care to you or your family if we continue down our current path. Face coverings are one of the best tools we have to save lives, keep our businesses open, and safely send kids to school. We need Governor Little to make this tough decision before we fill the hospitals."  

On Wednesday, Idaho reported 2,229 total cases and over two dozen new deaths. Of the total number of cases reported, 1,838 were new confirmed cases and 391 were new probable cases, setting a new single-day record of total cases and confirmed cases reported. See our interactive graphs and timelines tracking Idaho COVID-19 cases here.

Since the pandemic began in Idaho in March, 1,125 Idahoans have died from the coronavirus and 97,676 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported.

Gov. Little's last major press conference was on Nov. 13 when he announced that Idaho would roll back to Stage 2 of his reopening plan and signed an executive order that would deploy 100 Idaho National Guardsmen to help the state's healthcare workers.

On Wednesday, Gov. Little signed a statement with other Idaho GOP leaders condemning hate and intimidation after the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in downtown Boise was vandalized with swastika stickers and protesters gathered at several Central District Health Board members' homes earlier this week, including the home of Diana Lachiondo.

Lachiondo abruptly left CDH's meeting on Tuesday after protesters went to her home when her two sons were home alone while their grandmother walked the dog. 

She has repeatedly called upon Gov. Little to create a statewide-response to the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of having the state's seven independent health districts trying to handle the pandemic.

"We cannot continue to patchwork together orders from health districts and cities: over 1,088 Idahoans have lost their lives to this virus and our hospital systems are on the brink. Rise to the moment and lead, Governor," Lachiondo wrote on Facebook on Wednesday morning.

Editor's Note: This is a developing story and this article will be updated when further information is made available.