Gov. Brad Little Stage 4 presser 7-23-20

Gov. Brad Little answers questions from the news media at a press conference at Central District Health offices in Boise on Thursday, July 23, 2020.

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Here's a link to my full, updated story at idahopress.com on Gov. Brad Little's announcement today that Idaho will remain in Stage 4 of reopening for at least another two weeks, and that he'll continue to follow a locally-based approach, in which Ada County has been moved back to Stage 3 and all bars ordered closed by the Central District Health Department.

Russell Duke, director of Central District Health, noted that his district a little over a week ago issued a mask mandate for all of Ada County, but not for the other three counties within the district, Elmore, Boise and Valley counties. “This local-control concept is very much supported by myself and the board of health,” he said. “What that allows us to do is exactly what we’re seeing playing out.” While the other three counties do have coronavirus, he said, “it’s nowhere near what we are seeing in Ada County. A lot of that, we believe, is due to population density and community interactions.”

Duke said the Ada County mask order does apply to schools when they reopen, including to students; the mandate is for anyone age 2 or older to wear a mask when in public places.

“I really appreciate what I’m seeing in the community here in Ada County, as well as our neighboring counties,” Duke said. “We’re starting to see a lot more compliance with face coverings. That’s a really good indicator.”

Little was asked about public comments and social media posts from some health district board members around the state, including in southwestern Idaho and North Idaho, suggesting the pandemic is a hoax and that mask-wearing is dangerous.

“Health districts are either made up of county commissioners or appointed by county commissioners,” the governor said, “and that’s state law. It’s just like once in a while the governor goes off the rails. That’s a part of the electoral process.”

Asked how he’d respond., Little said, “We just continue. Occasionally I defend some of this. Because look at where we were on masks. … It was a foreign concept in the United States of America. For those of us who have the great privilege to travel internationally, we know that it’s been the norm, but it hasn’t been here.”

Originally, there was concern about saving N-95 masks for health care workers amid a shortage, he said. “Today we know more. … So in defense of people that have been skeptics of it … there’s a reason this is called the novel coronavirus, is because we’re learning more and more about it every day. Today, the evidence about the efficacy of face masks is just way higher than it was.”

“The evidence I’m getting back from some of these areas where they don’t have mask mandates is the percentage of the population that’s wearing masks is going up,” Little said. “We all know what’s taking place in a lot of retailers both large and small, about implementing from a private business standpoint a mask mandate. … Behavioral change is going to help. But at some point in time, if people don’t voluntarily do it, a mandate … is very important.”

If health care capacity is jeopardized, he said. “That’s something we may have to have.”

Asked if that meant he would issue a statewide mask mandate, Little said, “I doubt that very much. What always works best is for us to work with the existing laws, which is the health districts, do all we can, and give them the information to do the right thing.”

Little strongly urged Idahoans to wear masks. “I couldn’t agree with President Trump more: Wearing a mask is the patriotic thing to do,” Little said. “Wear a mask to show you want a strong Idaho and a strong America. Wear a mask if you want our kids to go back to school in August. Wear a mask so our economy can continue to rebound. Wear a mask so we can maintain the capacity of our health care facilities, so no one has to make a difficult decision about who receives care when resources are limited. Wear a mask to protect lives.”

“There is a mounting body of science-based evidence on the effectiveness of masks in significantly slowing the spread of coronavirus,” Little said. “I understand it’s not comfortable, and it still feels strange to interact with our faces covered up. But it is a minor sacrifice we can make to restore health (and) prosperity to our state and to our nation.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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