Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Washington Governor Slams Idaho’s Response to COVID
Keith Perry shows one of the outdoor heat lamps he’s installed at Perry Restaurant in Ketchum to warm those who want to dine outside. He also has a roll-out awning for snowy days.
Tuesday, November 17, 2020



Kelli Curtis has worked some incredibly L-O-N-G days since February 28 when the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at a Kirkland, Wash., nursing home.

A member of the Kirkland, Wash., city council, she was among the first government leaders in the nation called upon to craft a response. Since, she has spent countless hours formulating ways to support health care workers and educate city residents about ways to stay safe and keep from infecting others.

Blaine County recorded 15 new cases on Sunday and Monday for a total of 1,095.

As she’s done so, she has watched with incredulity the different response to the pandemic between Washington governor’s and Idaho’s.

She supported Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s willingness to provide care in Washington for Idaho COVID-19 patients in late October when Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene filled. But her acceptance came with a caveat.

“The sad thing is that some of these illnesses could have been prevented if Idaho had instituted mask wearing and social distancing statewide,” said Curtis, a friend of Sun Valley residents Jamie and Andrea Lieberman.

“Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle, was COVID-19 ground zero with the first U.S. diagnosed case.  At the beginning of the pandemic, over a third of our EMS personnel were in quarantine because of COVID exposure. We know firsthand the fear, stress, toil and heartbreak COVID takes on a community and a family. I can’t help but think of the Idaho families of COVID patients and the hardship they will experience if their family members are transported for care so far from home.”

Idaho recorded 928 new cases on Sunday and 1,099 on Monday for a total of 83,344 cases. Four more Idahoans lost their lives to COVID on Monday for a total of 763.

The frustration ramped up Sunday when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee slammed Idaho’s response to the pandemic.

“I have urged the Idaho leaders to show some leadership,” Inslee said. “One of the reasons we have such jammed up hospitals in Spokane is because Idaho, frankly, has not done some of the things we’ve found successful.”

On Friday Idaho Gov. Brad Little rolled Idaho back to Stage 2 restrictions after Idaho tallied an average of 1,300 daily COVID-19 cases for the week, up from an average of 1,100 the week before.

But it is a modified Stage 2 that barely changes anything. It limits gatherings to 10 or fewer—down from 50. Religious and political gatherings are exempt. Restaurants and bars and other businesses remain open, the only change being that bars must seat people.

He did not mandate masks, as at least 35 states have done.

Inslee, in contrast, ordered a four-week shutdown on Sunday for restaurants, bars and other businesses and indoor gatherings after his state reported a record number of new cases.

But Washington does not have nearly the crisis that Idaho does. Even with an increase in cases, anyone attending a gathering of 10 in Seattle or Curtis’s Kirkland has a one in 10 chance of being exposed to the virus. Blaine County residents have a one in four chance.

And the test positivity rate in Washington is a manageable 5.3 percent (less in Kirkland) compared with more than 40 percent for Idaho.

Washington’s Spokane County, just 20 miles from Coeur d’Alene, has seen the largest spike.

Inslee said he was stunned that the Panhandle Health District board rescinded its mask mandate just as its hospitals filled.

“That’s just irresponsible,” he said. “We hope Idaho, over time, will be more aggressive and responsible, frankly, to reduce the burden on the Spokane medical system.”

It hasn’t gotten any better in the past two weeks. Coeur d’Alene School District retreated this week to a hybrid of online/in-person teaching because of staff shortages. Ninety-one staff members were out of school last week—27 having tested positive. And the school district can’t find enough substitute teachers.

Last week 579 students were not in school because 35 had tested positive while the rest were in quarantine.

Right now, 75 to 85 percent of Washington State residents wear masks, compared with 40 to 50 percent in Idaho. The Washington Department of Health reported this week that that if 95 percent of the state’s residents mask up, a thousand local lives would be saved by February.

“Some folks think we can just take vulnerable people and put them in a bottle, put a cork on top of it and protect them until a vaccine shows up,” Inslee said during his press conference on Sunday. “It just isn’t possible.”

Inslee said he will not require Idahoans crossing the state lines to quarantine, as there’s so much interchange between the two states on a daily basis.

“We will continue to help them in our hospitals,” he said. “Their losses are ours, but we sure could use some help.”

Curtis concurred: “This is a critical situation and we are all in this together. We know that masks, hygiene and social distancing works. Wearing a mask to prevent others from getting sick is a small price to pay to protect those around you. I am hoping for the best for Idaho residents.”

Curtis said the early decisions she made as a city council member involved finding ways to support first responders.

“We moved immediately to an emergency declaration and opened up our Emergency Operations Center where we could track the health of our first responders, number of cases, and distribute our stockpiled PPE. I can’t say enough to thank our fire, police and EMS personnel. They showed incredible commitment and service to our Kirkland community,” she said.

Curtis and her cohorts also quickly began communicating with the community about safety protocols that would help protect them from the virus. They created videos to talk about steps residents could take to stay healthy, including one titled “Stay Home. Stay Healthy.”

“My video was about keeping safe distances from others while outside (measuring six feet with my dog) and staying home when you aren’t feeling well. As a council, we’ve worked well together with everyone on message and pitching in,” she said.

During the summer the city council focused on distributing masks and reminding people to avoid overcrowding at parks and other public spaces. And they looked for innovative ways to create space for businesses to serve customers outdoor.

“We closed down a downtown street for outdoor seating and created opportunities for parklets for restaurants and retail,” Curtis said.

Monday's news that Moderna's vaccine has 95 percent efficacy and can be stored under the same conditions as vaccines for chickenpox offers hope.But, as a headline in Huffington Post said: "Science will save us from COVID-19, but first we have to save ourselves."

And, for the time being, that means wearing masks and distancing, said Curtis.

There isn’t a mask debate in Kirkland, as there are some places, Curtis said. And willingness to go along with masks seems to have paid off as the COVID-19 Dashboard numbers for Kirkland have been stable and “very low.”

“We had some issues this summer with young people gathering at parks without masks. We deployed park ambassadors to do outreach and hand out masks to those that needed them. Nowadays, masks are just part of our daily life. The other day, while at the dog park, everyone I encountered had a mask on, even though we were outside. It has just become a habit.” 


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