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Idaho Governor On The Rising Number Of Coronavirus Cases In The State

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

COVID-19 cases are now rising in nearly every state, but few states are seeing as steep of a climb as Idaho is seeing right now. Idaho's daily case rate is five times higher than it was just a month ago. But the state has stuck to its final stage of reopening, with indoor dining still allowed and bars and nightclubs still open in many parts of the state. Here to discuss how the state is responding to the pandemic is Idaho's Republican Gov. Brad Little.

Welcome.

BRAD LITTLE: It's nice to be on, Ailsa.

CHANG: So as we've just said, Idaho's spike is not showing any signs of slowing down. At what point - let me ask you - might you consider scaling back your statewide reopening just as Texas, for example, has done?

LITTLE: Well, statewide, I've still got counties where there's zero positivity. I've got some counties where there's not one confirmed case. But the area of the hot spot is Ada County, where Boise is. And they have dialed back nightclubs, bars, large events. And other health districts and other communities are also doing the same. So we basically laddered up to a four-stage plan, and we're stuck in stage four because our numbers aren't great. They're not what we'd like.

CHANG: But you're not in any way planning to scale back the statewide reopening. You're going to do it county by county.

LITTLE: No, it'll be - well, it can be by city or - with - under state law, it can be by city or health district. We have seven health districts in the state, and one of the health districts has already done that. Two other health districts are having serious considerations about it right now. And they've set in protocols that if positivity numbers get to a certain percent, then they will go, like a lot of other states, from green to orange to red. Obviously, red means they've got to do something because it's all about preserving critical health care capacity.

CHANG: Well, let's talk about that capacity. Hospitalizations have doubled in the last two weeks, and hospital leaders in your state are saying they're really concerned about not having enough staff. So are you concerned about hospital capacity now and the possibility that you may have to send patients out of state, like Arizona has, for example?

LITTLE: We don't believe that's going to be the case. Our hospital capacity in the one area where we've already dialed it back is one of the most critical areas. We don't believe there's - you know, on the horizon there's any need to send people out of state. And in fact, some of our numbers have started to come down - just the recent numbers the last couple days.

CHANG: Well, let's turn to the issue of masks. One thing that hospital officials in Idaho are saying is that a statewide mask mandate would be helpful. They've asked you to implement one. Will you?

LITTLE: I've said, never say never and never say always. But the mask mandates have been on a regional basis so far, and we're hopeful...

CHANG: And why is that? Why not do a statewide mandate?

LITTLE: Well, if you're in a county with zero positives and zero cases, why would you do that? At some point in time, you may need to do that. I'm a little worried about mask fatigue, particularly if you're in an area where there's no cases.

CHANG: Well, the virus doesn't stop at county boundaries. I mean, three dozen Idaho counties are seeing community spread, so it's hard to say that the virus will definitely be contained in certain counties and not in others.

LITTLE: Well, some of the spread - some of the statistics are we got a 50% increase 'cause we had one case, and now we have two. And it depends upon those cases. Is it somebody that came from somewhere else? We've done the tracing. They're self-isolating - is totally different than any instance to where we don't know where it's coming from.

CHANG: Let's turn to schools now. I mean, if cases continue to rise at the rate that they are rising now in your state, will you rethink your plan to reopen schools this fall?

LITTLE: It'll be exactly the same. It'll be a regional basis. If we've got areas - we just - the state board of education sent out guidance to local school districts that if we want kids back in school this fall - but if we have a significant increase, if we're worried about critical health care capacity, it'll be, you know, an increase in - whether it's part online, part off or, you know, our last result would be that everybody's online. That's not our preferred because, you know, the students that are fortunate enough to have parents at home, have tutors, whatever...

CHANG: Right.

LITTLE: ...That's one thing. But these kids that are behind - that is - we've got a constitutional obligation to help them. We want those kids in class.

CHANG: That is Republican Gov. Brad Little of Idaho.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

LITTLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.