BOISE — Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Wednesday that he is asking the Legislature to free up funds to respond to a potential coronavirus outbreak in Idaho.
How much funding may be necessary?
“In the millions” of dollars, Little said.
Little and the state’s top health officials said at a press conference that while nobody has tested positive in Idaho yet, they expect the virus — known as COVID-19 — to show up in Idaho at some point. They hope that public health efforts can keep the spread of the virus in check.
Little announced that he has assembled a coronavirus working group that “ensures we’re keeping the lines of communication open and enhancing our coordination efforts on a number of fronts, to best serve the public.”
The group includes:
- Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen
- Idaho Hospital Association President Brian Whitlock
- North Central Public Health District Director Carol Moehrle
- Idaho Office of Emergency Management Director Brad Richy
- Dr. Carolyn Bridges, a retired U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health physician with expertise in flu pandemic planning and response
- Dr. David Pate, retired physician and retired St. Luke’s Health System CEO
- Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.
Christine Hahn, Idaho’s medical director and state epidemiologist, said COVID-19 could have a greater impact on Idaho’s health care system and its residents than the pandemic flu in 2000, the West Nile virus and other outbreaks.
“I’ve been here since 1995,” she said. “And I think history will tell, right? We can’t predict where this is going. I think potentially this is the biggest event (since) I’ve been here ...”
Little said he is calling on state lawmakers to help Idaho manage the impact of the virus. Little said Wednesday that he has directed his budget office to “work with the legislators to make funds available to aid in response efforts, if we need to do that. Those discussions are actively happening now.”
Little said he believes the White House is “fully committed to making funds available to Idaho to cover the costs of responding to an outbreak, if we experience that.”
He stressed that the most important thing for Idahoans to do right now is to take steps to protect themselves and others from illness. That includes washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes, staying home when you’re sick and not touching your face.
The state is working to ramp up its testing abilities. Only six people have been tested for coronavirus as of Wednesday, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s new coronavirus website, coronavirus.idaho.gov.
Idaho’s lab can do about 15 coronavirus tests per day. But the state may be able to turn to private labs if Idaho needs a high volume of tests.
“I do think we all expect (need for testing) to increase ... and we are very excited that the (Food and Drug Administration) announced, I think yesterday, that they are approving some commercial laboratories to begin testing, so it won’t be entirely resting on public health,” she said. “I think that’s the way it needs to go.”
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