Idaho’s coronavirus cases spike again, doctors urge action

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho is seeing its largest coronavirus spike since the pandemic began, with new cases increasing by 46.5% percent over the past two weeks. That trend has some health care experts urging Gov. Brad Little to take additional action to slow the spread.

“As a health system, we’re all very concerned,” said Dr. Bart Hill, the vice president and chief quality officer of St. Luke’s Health System, the largest health system in the state. “It’s indicative of anticipating we’re going to see more hospitalizations affecting an older population in the next two, three, four weeks.”

Idaho is currently sixth in the nation for new cases per capita, with a positivity rate of just over 15% — one of the highest in the nation. Still, Little has declined to take additional statewide steps like requiring masks to slow the virus.

“Idaho is an expansive state, and communities and their needs vary greatly across the state,” Little’s spokeswoman, Marissa Morrison, wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Governor Little remains committed to working closely with public health districts and mayors, and he supports the decisions of local officials in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in communities experiencing high virus activity.”

Little has repeatedly said that the responsibility to slow the coronavirus falls on individuals, urging people to wear masks, practice social distancing and practice good hygiene.

“Our personal actions work better to slow the spread of coronavirus than anything else,” Little said Thursday when he announced Idaho would remain in Stage 4 of his reopening plan for the 18th week in a row. “This is about personal responsibility, something Idaho is all about.”

A significant portion of Idaho residents, however, don’t seem to be taking Little’s message to heart. Photos of a volleyball game in the southern Idaho town of Twin Falls area posted to social media on Monday showed mask-less people sitting hip-to-hip in a packed school gym. St. Luke’s hospitals in the region, meanwhile, are now postponing elective surgeries to ensure there is room for an expected influx of COVID-19 patients in the coming days.

Hill said health care providers knew that the pandemic would ebb and flow over time, and the temporary statewide shutdown that Little ordered back in March gave medical facilities time to prepare for spikes like the one Idaho is currently experiencing. St. Luke’s Health System still has adequate capacity for now, he said.

“I know (St. Luke’s) leadership is having conversations with the governor today and tomorrow expressing our concerns that doing the same of what we have been doing is not likely to change our trajectory,” he said. “The direction we’re heading is one that it looks real problematic.”

Hill said he’s not advocating steps that would hurt the economy, but rather targeted interventions like information campaigns aimed at teens and young adults who are more likely to spread the virus to older and more at-risk Idahoans. Hill also said the state needs to improve testing capacity so

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