BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Friday that he is mobilizing the National Guard to help combat the coronavirus pandemic as cases threaten to overwhelm the state's healthcare system's ability to care for the sick and dying.
The executive order signed by the governor calls up 100 guardsmen to help expand healthcare access by assisting with mobile testing, facility decontamination, and more.
In addition, Idaho will also move back into Stage 2 of the reopening plan. Restrictions include a limit on gatherings to ten people or less, both inside and outside. Religious and political expression is exempt from the gathering limit, however, and bars, restaurants and other businesses can remain open, although patrons must be seated when not entering or leaving the business.
Little urged residents to celebrate Thanksgiving with the people in their own household, and avoid traveling, stressing that making "difficult choices" are worth it to protect the people around you.
"Folks, all along or pandemic response has been driven by science. The science tells us the transmission is happening in small group settings with our friends and loved ones where we tend to let our guard down about physical distancing and masks," Little said. "Taking the right action in public is incredibly important, but it's more important that we continue those practices in all areas of our lives. That means we all must limit social gatherings and practice physical distancing, and wear a mask with anyone, anywhere, who is not a member of our household."
Little exhorted Idahoans to wear masks to stop the spread of the virus, a measure backed by science, but again opted to urge "personal responsibility" in the matter rather than order a mask mandate.
"Please wear a mask, when you're around another person who's not in your household. It will protect you and your loved ones," the governor said. "It will slow the COVID spread it will keep people employed and protect our economy and it will preserve health care access for all of us."
Rachel Thain, a respiratory therapist at St. Luke’s, had even stronger words for people across the state as she described the grueling uphill fight hospital workers faced every day as coronavirus cases continue to mount.
"At this point, it's a sign of disrespect if you're not wearing a mask," she said. "We are doing everything we can to keep our hospitals running and to have open beds for our community members and our community members are basically disrespecting us by not wearing their mask. I know that might sound harsh, but that is the reality of it."
St. Luke's has seen a wave of patients, who are sick enough to be on life support machines for weeks, Thain said. That means less room for other COVID-19 patients, she said, but also people in need of ICU beds for other serious ailments and injuries.
"Our floors are full," Thain said. "We experience calls daily from outlying facilities, Washington, Oregon, all over Idaho saying please take our patients. We are at capacity, we don't have staff to take care of our patients. Well, that's where we are now too."
Hospitals around the region are also seeing an influx of young adults who are very sick with coronavirus, despite the pervasive idea that the virus is always for those who are young and healthy. Although most of the younger patients so far have lived, Thain said, many are left with serious health issues months after their release from the hospital, she said.
One such patient, a "very healthy" man in his 30's, has been left with only a quarter of normal heart function, she said.
Idaho added 1,006 confirmed and 278 probable COVID-19 cases on Thursday, making it nine out of the last 10 days that the state has surpassed 1,000 daily cases. The state also reported an additional 16 deaths on Thursday, bringing the statewide death toll to 753.
Cases have been steadily climbing since the governor rolled back the state to Stage 3 of the Idaho Rebounds plan on Oct.27. That decision was made because healthcare facilities are facing increased demand and capacity because of COVID-19. The virus is continuing to put a strain on Idaho hospitals.