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Idaho catches up


Back in May, when Idaho had come out of the shutdown and there was an all-mail-in primary election, I pointed out how counting Covid deaths was tough. I suggested instead we track “excess deaths”, that is the number of people who are dying above what is expected.

Back when I wrote that Idaho only had 16 reported Covid deaths. Now we are above 500. But the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports that for the period January through September 2020 our state has had 861 “excess deaths”. That is, lots more Idahoans are dying than expected. It is about a 9% increase above the baseline.

But if you have time to look at the graph on the CDC website for Idaho excess deaths, you will see that almost all that excess occurred after July. And a graph, from the New York Times shows a very steady increase in cases. We are now posting weekly highs, week after week. Maybe we are catching up.

Idaho’s health care providers and hospitals are feeling it. Kootenai Medical Center in Coeur d’Alene is at 99% capacity, cancelling elective surgeries because their ICU is maxed out. Southeastern Idaho is also seeing rising cases and hospitalizations.

Of course, it could just be a blip, a bump, a bit of a bother, not really something to get too worried about. Maybe an extra thousand deaths in a year is something the rest of us can live with. At least we are getting back to having sports.

We are all tired of this pandemic, aren’t we?

I don’t think it’s tired of us yet.

Our Governor and Republican legislators are very proud of our economic growth, one of the most rapid in the nation. They should be, it’s impressive. We have lower unemployment (3rd lowest) and high GDP growth. It helps Idaho’s population is booming also, unless you like the solitude.

So, what would be acceptable in exchange for your beloved economic numbers? Ten percent excess deaths? Twenty percent? After all, it’s just us old people dying from the infections.

But healthy growth, healthy communities show some discipline. What Governor Little hears is Idahoans want more freedom. How long are you going to expect me to wear this stupid mask?

We had an early shutdown in Idaho when numbers were quite low. Did the social isolation help our communities not get infected, or were we just ahead of the curve and now we are catching up? We can’t turn the clock back and conduct that experiment, but the curve we are seeing right now calls for some action. And the unpopularity of that action will be directly related to the amount of courage it takes to do it.

Governor Little knows his Idaho, and he hears from and listens to all sorts. He knows the numbers and watches the curves, reads the reports. But he also knows there’s a small but vocal wing of his Idaho Republican Party that don’t like him, don’t like his moderate and sensible ways. They’d dump him for an Ammon Bundy type in a minute.

But my experience with Brad Little says he’s got the discipline and the courage to help lead us through this. It’s going to be rough, these coming months.

I learned about diving through the surf on the Southern California beaches. You have to time it right or the wave pushes you down and you tumble in the sand. If you come up too early, while it’s still cresting you get pulled over, back into the washing machine. After a few spins, it’s hard to know your way up. But it’s fun to get out past the waves.

We’re catching a wave now. Let’s hope we get out beyond.

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