Idaho View: Idaho’s extremist views during coronavirus are not just political philosophy; they’re dangerous
IDAHO VIEW

Idaho View: Idaho’s extremist views during coronavirus are not just political philosophy; they’re dangerous

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State of the State address, 2018

Representative Heather Scott (R) listens during the State of the State address Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the Capitol in Boise.

Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler writes a letter to the Idaho governor complaining that a statewide stay-home order is unconstitutional and that public health officials have misled the country about the seriousness of coronavirus, which he says “is nothing like the Plague.”

He wants legislators to return to Boise for an emergency session to discuss the merits of a “letter circulating around the country” written by a Florida guy named Alfie who rants about globalists and the World Health Organization manipulating the media to “sensationalize” the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak. The letter, which the sheriff has posted on the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page, devolves into a tinfoil-hat diatribe against the “New World Order,” which is trying to bring down the economy and President Donald Trump.

Idaho Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, sends an email out to her followers, calling coronavirus “the virus that tried to kill the constitution,” and suggests that the global pandemic is being used “to push a global, socialistic agenda while in the midst of a national emergency.”

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin posts a poll on Facebook, just hours after Gov. Brad Little issued a statewide stay-home order.

“This afternoon, Gov. Brad Little issued a sweeping, statewide stay-at-home order that came as a surprise to many Idahoans, myself included. Effective immediately, this order closes all non-essential businesses, forbids all non-essential travel, and bans all public gatherings for the next three weeks. Do you support the Governor’s decision?”

It’s worth noting that 74% of 13,600 people voted “Yes,” they supported Little’s decision.

Another state representative, Rep. Tim Remington, R-Coeur d’Alene, also known as “Pastor Tim,” who was appointed by Little this session when John Green was removed from office after he was convicted of a federal felony, also questions Little’s stay-home order as unconstitutional and gathers people at his church for Sunday service.

He later tells TV station KREM that McGeachin told him it’s up to individual church leaders to decide what’s right, “not determined by the community, unless you want to start violating big time our First Amendment rights.”

He says that the people who come to the service in person are going shopping, “they’re out there, they’re in it, so they’re not really afraid of it.”

Remington echoes complaints about the news. “If all you listen to is the news right now, then they are afraid. And why would they be afraid? In north Idaho, we’ve had no deaths. In the state of Idaho, 1.5 million, we’ve had six. OK? Six!” He says. And he compares coronavirus to “the regular flu.”

He says he fears there might be more suicides than flu victims “because of oppression.”

Well-intentioned ignorance is still ignorance. When it comes to coronavirus, it’s dangerous.

COVID-19 is not the common cold. It is not the seasonal flu, which kills about 300 Idahoans each year. It is not the plague, which is treatable with antibiotics. COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is more deadly, is highly contagious and threatens to overwhelm our health care system. We don’t have enough medical supplies, we don’t have enough ICU units or hospital beds, we don’t have enough tests, and we don’t have enough ventilators in the case of a major outbreak.

No, we’re not all going to die of coronavirus. That is not the point.

The point is that if we don’t contain the spread of coronavirus, we’re going to have too many sick people to be able to take care of. And not just COVID-19 patients. That means that if you have a heart attack completely unrelated to coronavirus or you’re in a car accident or if you have an asthma attack or allergic reaction, our hospitals and health care professionals would be so overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, they wouldn’t be able to help you.

Recognizing this for what it is — a national crisis — several governors, including our own Gov. Brad Little, declared a state of emergency and subsequently issued a stay-home order statewide.

This isn’t tyranny. The people still can assemble, albeit virtually. The government isn’t shutting down businesses to take your livelihood or nationalize the means of production. This temporary shutdown is meant to save lives, not control them.

We don’t expect the Bonner County sheriff to start believing Dr. Anthony Fauci over Alfie from Naples, Florida, any time soon. But we ask voters to consider this type of representation when they vote and decide whether these kinds of extremist views are really good for Idaho.

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Idaho’s structure of electing governors and LG’s completely separately — different from many states which bind them together — allows for the office holders to come from different points of view.

For future historians and artists who'll chronicle today's health and economic crisis, one humble item will stand out as the chief cultural emblem of the times: wearing a mask. Or not.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

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