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There are no easy answers when navigating a pandemic. But nearly nine months into this public health crisis, our state’s lack of top-down leadership has created confusion and sparse adherence to best practices.

Gov. Brad Little has said he doesn’t want to use a cookie-cutter approach and people are more likely to follow local rules than statewide mandates.

We understand that. Often local leadership is the best equipped to meet the specific needs of its population. However, in a public health emergency such as this, Idaho needs more consistent leadership from the top and clearer direction, especially as we’re seeing a surge in cases. The state hit record-high days in October with more than 1,000 new cases, which is creating a strain on hospitals.

What we’d like to see from Gov. Little is a clear plan of action and consistent metrics. When a county enters a red level of community spread, as determined by CDC guidelines, there should be a state mandate that automatically kicks in countywide. Residents should have clear guidelines: If these metrics hit these thresholds, then these specific mandates will be enforced. This would eliminate confusion and waffling at the local level as to what the next step should be.

The state’s mandate for counties in the red zone should include requiring masks in public and limiting the size of social gatherings. When residents take steps to curb transmission rates, then their county can enter a less restrictive stage.

When the governor passes the responsibility for these tough decisions down to mayors, school boards and health district boards, it creates inconsistency and political pressure — as evidenced by protests at health district board meetings, mask-burning outside local officials’ homes, teacher sickouts and school board trustee resignations and efforts to recall them.

Idaho needs stronger state leadership through this crisis. We urge Gov. Little, with the guidance of public health experts, to establish clear, data-driven benchmarks that trigger state mandates in counties with a high transmission rate. The state’s coronavirus dashboard needs to clearly communicate to residents: Here’s the goal line, here are the metrics and health alert level in your county, and here are the restrictions that come with that stage.

With clear goals in mind, we can all take the right steps for improved outcomes in our communities — and the governor can lead the way in that.

Editorials are based on the majority opinion of the Idaho Press editorial board, comprised of community members Rod Gramer, Rosie Delgadillo Reilly, Tracy Watt, Nicholas O’Bryant and Pat Klocke, and Idaho Press President and Publisher Matt Davison. Idaho Press managing editor Holly Beech and city editor Tess Fox are non-voting members. Views expressed in the editorial do not necessarily represent unanimous agreement among all board members. Watt and O’Bryant were absent from this week’s discussion.

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