Idaho Gov. Brad Little fears the paranoid right wing of the Republican Party more than he fears the coronavirus. If he didn’t, he’d be slamming on brakes like a freight train’s conductor trying to avoid a deadly collision.

Instead, he is standing by and easing restrictions on public gatherings while COVID-19 coronavirus packs hospitals in our biggest cities, slows test results, makes personal protective equipment scarce and lets community spread continue.

Now, colleges and universities are opening with in-person classes, albeit with precautions. Public schools will soon open nearly everywhere, some with few or no precautions, even in viral hotspots.

People shouldn’t be on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next. Conditions will get worse unless the governor acts.

In Boise this week, 39 doctors called on public officials to close most businesses and schools in Idaho’s most populous counties, Ada and Canyon, and to issue a mask mandate for Canyon. They called for a return to May’s Stage 1 restrictions on travel and gatherings.

Without the governor’s leadership, health district officials, who also have the power to order health restrictions, will continue to be cowardly and fail to act in the face of objections from a minority of citizens that mistakenly believe that masks are an assault on their personal “freedom.” Despite their science educations, health officials live in fear of losing their livelihoods if they make the “wrong” decision in the eyes of elected officials.

In August, Idaho has vied with other states for the top spot in the rate of new coronavirus infections each day. As each restriction on gatherings ended, cases rose. Today, the rate is more than double what it was when the governor issued a statewide stay-in-place order in March.

The rest of Idaho will go the way of Ada, Canyon and Twin Falls Counties without mask mandates and other restrictions. Fall’s cooler weather will mean more time spent indoors where the virus is concentrated. When Idahoans travel around the state, they will bring the virus with them.

Mask mandates and distancing reduced spread in Blaine County, but they have not eliminated the virus. Spread in the largest cities threatens the availability of hospital care for all that do become infected.

Gov. Little needs to heed the pleas of health experts, not the fears of the politically paranoid. He should put on the brakes before the virus is entirely out of control.

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