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Viewpoint: Governor Brad Little discusses the COVID-19 situation in Idaho

Gov. Little explains his reasoning for rolling Idaho back to Stage 2 of reopening, why it's not as strict as the first time, and celebrating Thanksgiving safely.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Governor Brad Little has implored Idahoans to wear masks or face coverings but has resisted issuing a statewide mask mandate. He has left that decision up to individual health districts.

Under the modified Stage 2 order public and private gatherings are limited to 10 people or fewer.

Governor Little said the top consideration that could lead to tighter restrictions would be having too many covid patients for our hospitals to handle and the infection rate among health care workers.

He also said he is confident a vaccine will start being distributed in Idaho in December; first to health care workers and then residents of nursing homes.

With Thanksgiving approaching, Governor Little is urging Idahoans to follow the guidelines under the modified Stage 2 order to keep themselves, their families and others safe from the coronavirus.

On this edition of Viewpoint, the governor lays out his reasoning for that and for rolling Idaho back to Stage 2 of reopening, why it's not as strict as the first time, and celebrating Thanksgiving safely amid the pandemic.

Editor's Note: The following interview has been edited for grammar.

Doug Petcash: With these latest case numbers and the numbers of deaths spiking, are you leaning more in that direction, considering going to a mask mandate?

Governor Brad Little: Well, we're doing several things right now. I think today we're going to put the final touches on some more outreach. As I stated in our press conference, we have not done a very good job of messaging when you look at the compliance. We all know there are certain conspiracy theories out there. We have got to get better information that touches the hearts of Idahoans about the critical nature of health care. My guiding North Star from the very beginning from back in March has been health care capacity, and that's one of the reasons I called out the National Guard. We continue to expand health care capacity, but the infection rate among hospital workers is really creating a problem there, and we've got to get that message through to Idahoans. A mandate, my general feeling on this is if your mother tells you to do something you probably do it. And the closer it is to your mother the more apt you are to do it. The further it is, whether it be the governor or the president or nationally versus locally, the compliance is going to be better. What I want is compliance.

Doug Petcash: Why go back to a modified Stage 2 that is not as restrictive as the Stage 2 we were in earlier this year.

Gov. Little: If we implement the protocols under Stage 2 we should be good. Those small gatherings, restaurants and bars having more spacing, reducing transmission. When we first started, there was a real shortage of PPE and we didn't know everything we know today about Covid. We didn't know about the efficacy of these face coverings, about what it does to protect you from me and me from you. So as we learn more about Covid we can not be as restrictive. I don't want to shut down businesses at all. I don't want to shut down houses of faith, but I do need them to act differently than they did before.

Doug Petcash: Limiting groups to ten people or fewer seems to be the key change in this Stage 2 order. Is that because you feel that most of the spread is coming from small family and friends type gatherings?

Gov. Brad Little: We know that's where the spread is coming from. We know it's particularly when people let their guards down and they get into a more familiar setting whether it be a party, a family dinner, an event, maybe riding together to an athletic event or something else. Our contact tracing tells us, and when I'm on the phone with other governors nationally, it's uniform. Those familiar gatherings where people let their guard down and significant spread is taking place.

Doug Petcash: That being said, what do you want people to do about Thanksgiving?

Gov. Little: Well, if you've got somebody that's health compromised unless people have isolated themselves they need to be very careful because as that healthcare capacity, as we bump up against that healthcare capacity, the last thing you want is one of your loved ones, and of course that's what Thanksgiving is all about is to get together with your loved ones from afar, but if they come fro an area where there's significant spread there's guidance that's available on our website about what to do, but people have just got to be careful.

Doug Petcash: So should people stick with marking the occasion just with those in their immediate household and maybe connecting virtually with relatives?

Gov. Little: Absolutely. We've got a much better virtual connection, but it's still not the same thing to me and most Idahoans as a traditional Thanksgiving where we, not only where we get together and enjoy our family and friends but where we celebrate what we're thankful for. But I want to urgently ask Idahoans to be thankful. These small sacrifices and they are very small given the nature of this. We have a vaccine that's on the cusp. I'm pretty confident we'll be distributing the vaccine in December in Idaho, but it's going to take a while to get it out there. We want our economy to rebound. We want people to stay safe. We definitely want our kids in school. So those small sacrifices, even at Thanksgiving are going to be necessary for us to get there.

Viewpoint airs every Sunday morning at 6:30 on KTVB and several times after that on 24/7 with the first airing at 9 a.m.