Our little taste of life as somewhat normal has been short-lived.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Tuesday that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high COVID-19 transmission rates. It also recommended that students and educators in K-12 wear masks when school starts nationwide over the next month.
Really, CDC’s earlier guidance in May that it was safe for vaccinated people to go without masks in most settings didn’t have its intended effect. The idea was that vaccinated people would shed their masks like Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat in the air in downtown Minneapolis, while unvaccinated people would look on haplessly and keep wearing their masks. The problem is that unvaccinated people shed their masks, too — if they were even wearing them to begin with.
The past couple of months have felt like borrowed time. Going into any public setting where no one is wearing a mask, yet knowing 60% of the people have not been vaccinated, created a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The other shoe is dropping.
With the delta variant spreading like wildfire across the country, there is growing concern and evidence about the ability for vaccinated people to carry the virus and transmit it to others, even if the vaccinated people don’t really get sick themselves.
The CDC’s guidance to put those masks back on is an effort to head off another wave in this pandemic. But Idaho is likely to get caught flat-footed.
Our numbers already are headed in the wrong direction. Idaho’s vaccination rate of 46% for all residents 12 and older is among the worst in the nation. As of Tuesday, 687,760 Idahoans were fully vaccinated, leaving another million or so unvaccinated. That’s still a lot of people among whom the novel coronavirus can spread, pushing up hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
More than 600 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Monday, a tally that includes the weekend. Idaho’s seven-day moving average is now at 232, the highest it’s been since April.
We want to send our children back to school safely next month, but Idaho has set itself up for disaster. The CDC also recommends masks for schools. We doubt there will be much of an appetite among some school districts to follow that guidance, with Idaho parents already having called for the resignation of school board members over health safety measures.
Unlike other states, Idaho never did have a statewide mask mandate. Any mask mandates were a patchwork of health orders issued around the state, and were met with derision and often noncompliance.
Even with CDC guidance, we don’t expect a statewide mandate from Gov. Brad Little, who has left such decisions to the state’s seven public health districts.
Unfortunately, the Republican-dominated Idaho Legislature took the teeth out of their power to protect the public, giving veto power to county commissioners over any countywide or districtwide mask health orders they could issue.
Since last year’s pandemic response, the commission in Ada County has changed dramatically, with two Republicans, Rod Beck and Ryan Davidson, elected into office. They have criticized the public health measures ordered by the previous members of the Central District Health Board. After Davidson defeated Diana Lachiondo in the last election, Davidson and Beck replaced her on the health board with former Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who has been vocal against mask mandates and even the very use of masks.
And last month, Beck and Davidson ousted Dr. Ted Epperly from that same board, criticizing his support for public health measures, such as mask mandates. Epperly’s replacement on the board will be chosen in the next couple of weeks. One of the candidates, Dr. Ryan Cole, has voiced skepticism about the vaccine and criticized the CDC, and speculated the Food and Drug Administration makes decisions based on a profit motive.
Ada County doesn’t seem like a bastion of reason and safety in Idaho anymore amid the ongoing pandemic.
And just as the U.S. economy is recovering, we risk another shutdown because of a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. That means people once again might stop going to the movies, stop going out to eat, stop going on road trips, stop visiting friends and family.
Those of you who have always done the right thing will continue to do the right thing. You will follow CDC guidance and go back to wearing masks while indoors to help in any way you can to prevent another surge, and to prevent a major spike in deaths and hospitalizations.
That surely will help.
In the meantime, there’s another simple thing that Idahoans can do to make sure we come out the other side of this. If you haven’t gotten the vaccine yet, please go get the vaccine. It’s safe and effective. But if not enough people get it, this isn’t going away anytime soon. We’ll continue to fight about mask policies, public health orders and rules for children in schools.
But if enough people do get the vaccine, we’ll be able to avoid a big COVID-19 surge, keep the economy going, go back to the office, protect the health of our communities, and — once and for all — go back to normal.
The delta variant is upon us, and the two-dose regimen for the vaccine takes a few weeks.
Go get the vaccine before it’s too late.
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, editor Chadd Cripe and newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J.J. Saldaña and Christy Perry.