Friday, November 27, 2020

Health board decision dangerous, disgraceful

| October 25, 2020 1:00 AM

The three bodies that had been local residents weren’t even cold yet when the Panhandle Health District board lifted the Kootenai County mask mandate.

To be clear, the whole board didn’t make that decision shortly after three COVID-related deaths at Kootenai Health were reported. A majority did. And none of the four is even a Kootenai County resident.

Allen Banks, Glen Bailey, Mike Fitzgerald and Walt Kirby rescinded the mandate. Chair Marlow Thompson, a former EMT from Benewah County, and medical professionals Dr. Richard McLandress and nurse Jai Nelson from Kootenai County all voted to keep the mask mandate intact.

Not only had three families joined the newly bereaved, but the vote Thursday came one day after Kootenai Health sounded an alert heard throughout the Northwest: The hospital is 90 percent full, and with Spokane hospitals approaching capacity as COVID-19 cases surge in the region, overflow patients might have to be shipped as far away as Seattle and Portland.

News of that development led to immediate cries from those quarters that Idaho should have to take care of its own. It’s a fair indictment, but only to a degree.

The surge here is taking place not only as kids are back in school and folks are spending more time indoors as the colder weather encroaches, but in the immediate aftermath of invasion from our western neighbors who flocked to Idaho because of its much more relaxed approach to dealing with the pandemic. Who knows how much of our current illness came from the visitors to begin with?

One could argue that the mask mandate was toothless anyway, so should have been discarded. A misdemeanor that could have carried a hefty fine and jail time, Kootenai County law enforcers cited exactly zero violators. What’s the point of having a law if it’s never enforced?

Well, here’s the point: The mandate at least sent a message. Law enforcers used that message as part of an education campaign — not as effective as sending violators to jail, perhaps, but fertile fodder for open minds. What Kootenai County was telling locals and visitors alike was that health officials here recognize the efficacy of masks and that people should show consideration to each other by simply wearing a mask in enclosed public places.

By its decision Thursday, the four non-Kootenai County board members have erased that message. More than that, they have slapped the health care community in the face. Our doctors and nurses need every possible tool in their toolbox to prevent the catastrophe that Kootenai Health is warning us to heed, yet the health board’s four outsiders felt it prudent to reduce the front line fighters’ resources, rather than maintain or augment them.

This isn’t simply a political and practical outrage. It could be accessory to murder.