Just before former Lewiston School Superintendent Bob Donaldson imposed a face mask mandate on Nov. 1, the district reported 60 cases of COVID-19 since the school year had begun.
“It is the intent of such a requirement to slow the rapid spread of the virus should there be an increase in exposure to students and staff within a classroom, building or school,” Donaldson said.
As of Thursday, Lewiston schools reported 158 cases so far this school year.
When Donaldson acted, the seven-day average rate of infection in Nez Perce County was 68.2 cases per 100,000 population.
On Monday, Nez Perce County’s seven-day average hit 87.7 cases per 100,000. That’s down from a peak of 105.4 per 100,000 a week ago — but the last time the county’s rate of infection got this high was in early December.
Then, the virus was less contagious and, while spread by children to older, more vulnerable adults, it remained less threatening to youngsters.
Now, the delta variant spreads at least twice as quickly. It’s spilling over to more children, including those too young to get vaccinated.
Then, there was a hospital system with enough capacity to treat all those who were suffering from COVID-19.
Now, the entire state of Idaho is so overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients — primarily those who are not vaccinated — that its hospitals are authorized to operate under crisis standards of care. Boiled down, that means hospitals will ration care not to those who are in the most need but on the basis of those who have the best prospect of long-term survival.
That includes St. Joseph Regional Medical Center.
Then, there was no vaccine available. But even now, too few people have availed themselves of the vaccine to ward off the latest surge.
As Public Health — North Central Idaho District Director Carol Moehrle told the Lewiston City Council on Monday, just 46 percent of the Nez Perce County’s eligible population — those 12 and older — are vaccinated. That’s worse than the state average — where 53.7 percent of the population older than 12 has been vaccinated — and far worse than the national average of 65.9 percent.
At St. Joe’s, only 41 percent of its staff has opted to get vaccinated.
Meanwhile, three Idaho educators have died from COVID-19:
l Weiser Middle School math teacher Marie Thomas.
l West Ada School District high school history teacher and coach Mike McCrady of Meridian.
l Javier Castaneda, principal and superintendent of Heritage Community Charter School in Caldwell.
COVID-19 also is suspected in the death of Karen Willert, a sixth grade teacher at Tiebreaker Elementary School in Ammon outside Idaho Falls.
Yet when Jenifer Middle School science teacher Alex Church described an “unsafe work environment” to the Lewiston School Board meeting last week, it produced little more than the same kind of collective shrug you’re seeing across much of Idaho.
You’re told masks were virtually unenforceable — particularly with younger and special needs students.
Students were constantly removing them in the hallways, resulting in power struggles with teachers and staff members.
Woe to the school board members and superintendent whose mask mandates inflame the animosity of a sizeable group of anti-mask parents. Who wants an ongoing political dogfight at every board meeting?
Gun shy superintendents and board members can read the numbers and watch the trends: They’re losing faculty. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Some districts are returning to virtual learning. But who wants to be the lone wolf? Why can’t someone at the state level take charge — and take the political heat — they want to know.
Nonetheless, local officials were willing to act a year ago when the picture was not as dark as it is now.
How much worse does it have to get? — M.T.