Southwest District Health Meeting 12/15

A screenshot of a meeting held by Southwest District Health officials Dec. 15.

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CALDWELL — Southwest District Health board members revisited a mask mandate for its six counties on Tuesday, and ultimately decided against bringing it to a vote.

While there was no such item on the agenda, Gem County Commissioner and board Chairman Bryan Elliott said he wanted to gauge whether they needed to schedule an additional meeting to address the issue if desired.

“At the present time, I’m not seeing that,” Elliott said. “That may change.”

Dr. Sam Summers, the board’s physician representative, was the only member to voice support for a mask mandate. Although, he said he believed that such a requirement should come from Gov. Brad Little, who so far has relied on local control for these decisions.

Summers said he believed even if they were to pass a mask mandate, it might be too late.

“We should’ve done this four months ago. Community education is not working,” he said.

Canyon County Commissioner Tom Dale said he’s chooses to believe residents “are taking it upon themselves to wear masks and wash their hands and stay home if they’re sick.” He added there didn’t seem to be much of a difference between the amount of COVID-19 cases in Canyon County versus the neighboring Ada County, which is overseen by Central District Health and has a mandate in place.

As of Monday, there were 18,272 total cases in Canyon County, and 31,722 total cases in Ada County. The counties differ in population by more than 250,000 people. Ada County’s average new daily case rate over the past week is 32.3 per 100,000 residents; Canyon County’s is 78.7 per 100,000.

Summers said the two largest counties in Idaho should be making similar policy decisions because of how close the areas are. Several of the members disagreed.

“I don’t have much faith in masks,” Adams County Commissioner Viki Purdy told the board.

Purdy also said she didn’t rely on the capacity numbers being reported by local hospital systems, and believed there were enough beds available for patients. This is contrary to what facilities, such as Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke’s, are reporting.

On Friday, Idaho’s state Board of Health and Welfare cleared the way for the state to activate crisis standards of care if any of its regions exhaust resources needed to care for COVID-19 patients. Board Vice Chairman Jim Giuffre said, “From all the data I’m reviewing and seeing, I think we’re pretty close to the crisis standards of care needing to be implemented, so the timing … (is) absolutely critical.”

VACCINES

Board members on Tuesday also discussed the district’s vaccine distribution plan.

Program Manager Ricky Bowman said the district will receive about 2,000 doses later this week. The vaccinations will be given first to health care workers and emergency responders, as well as long-term care residents and staff.

Bowman said they are coordinating with various agencies in smaller, rural communities to ensure those who need it receive the vaccine during the district’s initial rollout.

The next Board of Health meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 26 in Caldwell.

Olivia Heersink is the Canyon County public safety reporter. You can reach her at oheersink@idahopress.com, or by calling 208-465-8178. Follow her on Twitter @heersinkolivia.

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