During the weekend of March 21-22, an unusually large group of people retreated to camping sites along the Salmon River near Riggins.
Some were neighbors from nearby Valley and Adams counties who trek north at this time of year as a respite from winter.
But among them were people from Ada and Blaine counties, who acknowledged to Undersheriff Jim Gorges that they were looking to escape the COVID-19 infection spreading around them. Some of them described this small rural hamlet as a refuge.
Sharing in that view was Idaho County Commission Chairman Skip Brandt, who just a few days earlier spoke of maintaining “business as usual” because the situation in rural Idaho is far different than the congested urban centers.
“ ... It seems like there’s being more made of this than should be,” Brandt said.
You’ll read much the same sentiment elsewhere on this page.
Conservative columnist Rick Rogers insists that the coronavirus outbreaks in places such as New York City or even Kirkland, Wash., are “outliers” that will not reflect reality for the rest of us.
“COVID-19 is not a reason for the news media to flash the number of coronavirus cases and deaths on TV in real time, goosing your panic every four seconds to believe we’re literally going up in smoke,” Rogers writes. “The Lewiston-Clarkston Valley is not New York City. And no matter how badly Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants to be the center of attention, one nursing home in Kirkland does not represent Washington. ”
Within two days of a Tribune headline that asked “Is Idaho County becoming a haven from virus?” all cause for complacency vanished.
As the Lewiston Tribune’s Kathy Hedberg reported on March 27, a Rapid River area woman who had been undergoing treatment for cancer in Boise took ill. An ambulance crew of two emergency medical technicians and a driver transported her to St. Luke’s McCall Medical Center. From there, she was later taken to Boise.
Later, the crew learned she had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Following protocol, the three are self-quarantining for two weeks. If they need anything, it’s delivered to their homes. None has reported any symptoms of coronavirus.
Riggins EMS Director Janeen Eggebrecht had only seven licensed EMTs and five drivers to begin with. Some are married or roommates. So if you expose one, you expose both.
Routine call volume is down, due to residents complying with Gov. Brad Little’s stay-at-home order. Still, Riggins is a town with a disproportionately higher number of older people — statistically more likely to become seriously ill from the coronavirus — with a hospital 45 minutes away in either direction.
If one coronavirus case exposure can sideline at least a third of Eggebrecht’s team, more cases could be devastating.
Like everywhere else, you can’t be sure what will happen next. There’s no widespread testing. Asymptomatic people could be unknowingly spreading the heavily contagious virus. Those who do get sick stay sick for a long time — as long as three weeks in some cases — tying up limited hospital beds, intensive care units and scarce ventilators.
And it’s early yet.
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — the same source that predicts the national surge of nearly 100,000 deaths by August — says Idaho’s peak won’t hit until April 26. By then, virtually every hospital bed will be filled, ICUs will be at a premium and the state probably won’t have enough ventilators for all the people who need them.
By early August, the IHME predicts the virus will claim nearly 400 lives in Idaho.
Keep in mind, that assumes that Idahoans continue to stay at home, schools and non-essential businesses remain closed, people practice social distancing and follow other Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
That’s not alarmist. It is not hysterical. And it is not media hype.
What is irresponsible, if not dangerous, is to lull anyone — rural or urban — into believing this pandemic will not spread closer to them.
“We’re not New York. We’re not San Francisco. We’re not Seattle,” says one Riggins resident . “But we can get hit just as hard.” — M.T.