After issuing a self-isolation order for Blaine County last week, Gov. Brad Little said again Monday that he does not plan to mandate similar measures statewide—an approach some local lawmakers say they support for now.
Little on Monday signed two proclamations in response to COVID-19: one waiving 125 administrative rules related to health care providers and health care access, and another extending the state income tax filing and payment deadline to June 15.
But while the governor encouraged Idahoans to continue following the state’s safety recommendations, which mirror federal guidelines, he reiterated that he does not intend to implement statewide closures or requirements in the near future.
“Idaho is an expansive, geographically diverse state,” Little told reporters at a press conference Monday. “Science and common sense tell us planning and response efforts in one part of the state may not be the best approach in another part of the state.”
While health officials say Blaine County has officially reached the point of “community spread”—meaning some people who have the virus don’t know where they could have contracted it—other parts of the state are “a long ways away” from that point, Little said.
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told the Idaho Mountain Express that she appreciated Little’s “pragmatism” in handling the situation.
“We don’t need to be panicking,” said Stennett, who serves as minority leader of the Senate. “That isn’t going to help anybody.”
At the same time, Stennett said, she believes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been “behind the curve” in some aspects of its response and feels that Idaho could have acted more swiftly in some ways, especially in addressing large gatherings and school closures.
The Idaho State Board of Education on Monday night ordered a “soft closure” of all public schools in the state until April 20. Classrooms will be closed, but schools are expected to develop and implement a remote learning plan and special education plan during the closure.
For now, Stennett urged Idahoans to do their part to follow the recommended safety guidelines.
“I think we’d all like for somebody to have the magic bullet, but I think if we all work really hard to do our piece, we can start creating some normalcy back in our communities,” she said. “We’re just trying the best we can to deal with what’s in front of us.”
Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, and Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, told the Idaho Mountain Express that they agree with Little’s approach for the time being.
“I respect what he’s doing, letting each of the seven [public health] districts make that call,” Toone said. “Every region is a little bit different.”
If and when Idaho hits “critical community spread,” Toone said, she would support a statewide mandate. But she noted that Idaho’s relative lack of population density requires different considerations than more densely populated parts of the country.
“I suppose, in our case, we are unlike New York City,” Toone said. “The state of Idaho only has 1.7 million people. We have distance in and of itself. So we meet half of that social distancing now.”
Davis said she agrees with Little’s decision to follow recommendations from the CDC, which don’t currently include mandating “shelter in place” orders. She said she hopes people will follow the state’s safety guidelines, making a statewide order unnecessary, but would support such a mandate if conditions change and scientific experts advise it.
“As I heard the governor say, everyone’s not the same,” Davis said. “We’re a very diverse state. Big cities, rural towns and districts. There’s going to be a different solution that we need here than that other states need.”
Last week, Little said Monday, he directed all state agencies to review their administrative rules “to identify opportunities to assist in the coronavirus response while maintaining public safety.” The proclamation signed Monday waives 125 administrative rules dealing with health care providers and health care access.
The proclamation will broaden the use of telehealth technology, remove barriers on out-of-state providers treating Idaho patients through telehealth technology, allow inactive or retired providers to come out of retirement more quickly and easily, and allow emergency refills of up to 90 days for Idahoans with chronic medications, Little said.
Medicaid has also suspended co-pay requirements to reduce financial barriers for patients, according to the Governor’s Office.
“As the coronavirus situation progresses in our state, I want to reassure Idahoans that we continue to take all steps necessary at this time to protect our citizens and preserve capacity in our health care system,” Little said.