The COVID-19 numbers for Idaho are clear enough, even if they’re getting harder to count because they continue to get larger.
As this was written this week, Idaho’s COVID-19 case count stood at 4,865. A week ago: 4,006. Four weeks before that, 2,626. Four weeks prior, 1,887. You can see the pattern.
Costly as our health education is becoming, we’ve learned some things. The numbers do dampen when our travel, in-person contact and respiratory interaction is limited. Idahoans haven’t been able to stop the spread entirely, but they have been able to slow it — at times. What’s been true in Idaho has been even more dramatically true in places like Arizona and Texas and locales like Yakima, Wash.
The pressure to restore normal economic activity is more than reasonable, but that resumption of activity — and jobs — won’t last if every time we give in to it, the disease roars back and forces new shutdowns. Ask the careful and responsible Boise Fry Co., which closed Boise locations after an employee tested positive. Most people won’t go to public places if they think they’re going to get sick; most business people know you can’t build a business model by trying to ignore that.
Even so, the reopening pressure is fierce.
A June 21 editorial in the Lewiston Tribune made the point that Idaho Gov. Brad Little, who has tried to carefully calibrate between pandemic spread and reopening pressures, “has done all that he can. He’s out of time and political capital. Like it or not, the people of Idaho are on their own.”
He properly has acknowledged the reality of the pandemic, encouraging safety measures and ordering restrictions reluctantly (though faster than some of his Republican governor counterparts) and setting a prompt schedule for reopenings. He has cautioned that bad enough pandemic numbers may cause him to stop or roll back the reopenings. But rollbacks are hard.
Observing the fast recent rise in Idaho cases, he has tapped the brakes, sticking with the existing set of rules (Stage 4) for at least two weeks, and “to eventually transition to a more regional approach in our response.” How he will respond, or will be able to, if the Idaho numbers keep on rising is another question.
Regional rules have been tried in some places, such as requiring partial re-closings in high-case parts of Oregon. The health district covering Ada County, observing a large number of cases in Boise-area night spots, has downgraded some businesses back to Stage 3 from Stage 4, reimposing some requirements.
Still, that only helps to a point. We do not set up roadblocks between our cities and counties. If, say, Nampa clamped down and neighboring Caldwell did not, and people wander back and forth as, of course, they will, what good would Nampa’s rules do? (The same applies nationally with our patchwork of state rules, or lack thereof.)
Longer-range and statewide, pandemic controls are harder to come by. Little has been under fire from a wide range of fellow Republicans, from his own lieutenant governor to the 15 Republican legislators who met on the floor of the Idaho House in a sort of faux special legislative session, in which no actual legislation was proposed or passed. (A legitimate question of changes to state budgeting levels was raised, though likely the Legislature won’t need to meet before its next scheduled assembly in December.)
The incoming flak has included the over-the-top kind of rhetoric becoming increasingly common. Tracing contacts to find out who’s spreading COVID-19 is being equated to “the government taking babies away from their mamas.” Pandemic season added to campaign season seems to have resulted in silly season squared. No, the Constitution is not being suspended. No, the government officials trying to control the disease are not tyrants. But some people will believe it anyway.
If we buckled down and took the medicine (as, say, New Zealand did), we might be able to get this behind us. The more open-close cycles we pass through, the more closure and reopening rules jag back and forth, the more oppressive our society really will look and feel and more difficult economic recovery will be.
Maybe we will have grasped that lesson more fully — by this time next year.