BGH: Stay the course, stay home

by Aly De Angelus
Staff Writer | April 4, 2020 1:00 AM

Scott says Little’s order crosses constitutional line

SANDPOINT — While the global COVID-19 pandemic has an Idaho legislator questioning whether social distancing is effective, others, including Bonner General Health, stand behind Idaho Governor Brad Little’s “Stay Home” order.

District 1 Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard said in a video newsletter published on April 2 she believes that some political leaders have crossed a constitutional line.

“Just because there is an emergency happening, our government still has to work within the boundaries of our constitution,” Scott said in the video newsletter to Redoubt News YouTube channel. “Our rights and freedoms are more important than any emergency.”

However, in a Friday statement, Bonner General Health backed Little on stay-home order, saying it was both effective and the right course of action to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“As Governor Little states, we need to continue to make decisions about our response to coronavirus based on science,” said Dr. Morgan Morton, Medical Chief of Staff at Bonner General Health Hospital. “We know that social distancing will slow the spread of the disease and decrease the number of Idaho citizens that will die from this disease.”

Morton stated that rejoining the public prematurely could negate the sacrifices that citizens have made in the last two weeks.

“Because of the long incubation time ... returning to our old way of life now would be akin to giving the COVID-19 an invitation to spread quickly throughout our community,” she said.

The authority to issue orders such as Little’s Stay at Home Order is found within Chapter 6, Title 46 of the Idaho Code. The combined authority of the Director of the Department of Health and Welfare and local public health districts are granted permission to issue orders of quarantine and isolation, which can be punishable by law as a misdemeanor.

When Little declared a State of Emergency, it also triggered a series of Idaho-specific protocols such as loosening medical restrictions and issuing emergency funds to cover the cost of medical supplies. Without this action, Idaho would not have $2 million additional funds “to address unforeseen emergencies and to protect the interests of the state.”

However, Scott said the overreach by the order goes against citizens’ constitutional rights and is causing undue hardship. She said she has received numerous phone calls from people over the past few weeks, asking for help in keeping their businesses alive. In her 16-minute video, Scott instructs citizens to learn their constitutional rights and prioritize those rights even during an emergency, specifically referring to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Scott tells business owners to refer to the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause as indication that “the government cannot treat some businesses as essential and some businesses as not essential.” She said, “Stop asking the government if you are essential …Go back to business as normal if your livelihood depends on it.”

Idaho has 1,013 reported cases of COVID-19 in 31 of their 44 counties and 10 fatalities, with a second confirmed case in Bonner County on Friday.

“Until we have a vaccine, until we have immunity, until we have good treatment, something’s going to have to take place after the 15th (of April),” Little said to Idaho Public Television, referring to the stay-home order issued on March 25. “But it depends upon the science that’s out there. Life will not go back to normal for a long time.”

Idaho’s first case was confirmed on March 13. Since then, Little has turned to telehealth systems in the hopes of easing healthcare access and has lifted certain medical license requirements for healthcare workers to quickly join the pandemic taskforce.

Despite implementing 21 days of non-essential business shut down and self isolation, Idaho has become one of the highest rates of infection in the world per capita, with Blaine County reporting 405 confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday afternoon. To put this in perspective, Italy’s rate of roughly 19 cases per 10,000 residents in a population of over 60 million people hardly compares to Blaine County’s infection rate of 141 out of 10,000 people testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

“There are a lot of areas in the South where the population is a lot smaller, but the proportion of people who have (COVID-19) is a lot greater,” said Assistant Director of Health Informatics at the University of Chicago’s Center for Spatial Data Science Marynia Kolak to Scientific American. “So that can cause potential challenges, because even though there are less people who have the virus, there are also correspondingly fewer hospital beds, (intensive care units) or ventilators.”

Another reason experts say Idaho may be more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 is due to their population makeup. According to the United States Census Bureau, 16 percent of Idahoans are persons 65-years-old and older, which is slightly higher than the average elder population per state.

Since Scott published the newsletter she has declined requests for comment by news media. In response to phone calls and emails from The Daily Bee, Scott wrote: “I believe my newsletter and video answers to these questions are sufficient. I would like to reiterate, that especially in times like these, personal responsibility and accountability should supersede any fear mongering coming from the many sources we are hearing from on a daily basis. The media in particular, have earned themselves a reputation for lying, spinning the truth, and exaggeration. It would behoove us to take their word with caution.”

Panhandle Health District said the health district response to Scott’s newsletter and the coronavirus pandemic was simple. “We will continue to follow CDC guidance and guidance placed by our Governor. We continue to urge everyone to stay home as much as possible to protect everyone in our community, especially those who are most at-risk of suffering from severe illness. We know that social distancing and staying home can slow the spread of this virus, and it takes everyone’s participation for these tactics to work. “

Aly De Angelus can be reached by email at adeangelus@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @AlylDailyBee.