An Idaho county health board on Thursday voted to overturn a mandatory mask mandate just one day after the area’s main hospital reported that it was at 99 percent capacity amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The board struck down the mandate in a 4-3 decision Thursday, with the county now recommending residents wear masks without imposing fines for noncompliance.
According to the Spokesman-Review, the mandate was first implemented in Kootenai County in July following a spike in COVID-19 cases. However, the outlet reported that the mandate was largely ignored and not properly enforced by local authorities.
Health board member Glen Bailey had proposed ending the mandate, arguing that it “restricts people’s right of choice and ability to comply or not comply under penalty of law,” according to the Spokesman-Review.
The decision came after officials from area hospital Kootenai Health on Wednesday issued a press release saying that it was almost at capacity, adding that nearby hospitals were also almost full and would not accept new patients.
The press release added that based on tests at Kootenai Health, the county is “seeing the highest rate of positivity since the start of the pandemic,” and that it was “looking at hospitals beyond our normal transfer area to see what is available” to accommodate additional patients.
“Our hospitals, health district and emergency responders are relying on our community for support,” the statement read. “The best way forward is to keep up with efforts that will flatten the uptick in cases in our region.”
The press release then outlined several actions it recommended for people to help stem the spread of COVID-19 in the area, including wearing face masks around people outside of one’s household, washing hands for at least 20 seconds, avoiding public areas and cleaning frequently touched surfaces often.
Amid public backlash on the health board’s decision, the Panhandle Health District issued a public statement alerting people that its coronavirus hotline “is mainly staffed with volunteers that have nothing to do with the Board’s decisions.”
“They manage their fair share of angry callers with grace and patience, but please direct comments about the board meeting to the board,” the notice said.
Idaho has been one of several states experiencing spikes in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reporting 950 newly confirmed cases on Thursday, bringing the state’s confirmed case total to 56,600.
Kootenai County is now in the Panhandle Health District’s highest risk coronavirus category. According to The New York York Times COVID-19 database, the county had 96 newly confirmed coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 3,724 infections and 48 deaths.
WEST ALLIS, Wis. — A hospital in Idaho is 99 percent full and warning that it may have to transfer coronavirus patients to hospitals in Seattle and Portland, Ore. Medical centers in Kansas City, Mo., turned away ambulances on a recent day because they had no room for more patients. And in West Allis, just outside Milwaukee, an emergency field hospital erected on the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair admitted its first virus patient this week.
More than 41,000 people are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus in the United States, a 40 percent rise in the past month, and cooler weather that pushes more people indoors is threatening to expand the outbreak still more. At least 14 states saw more people hospitalized for the virus on a day in the past week than on any other day in the pandemic, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Seven more states are nearing their peaks.
The nation has seen more people hospitalized at earlier points — during an onslaught of cases in New York City in April and in the Sun Belt in July — but the sharply rising numbers now are deeply worrisome, in part, because they are testing the limits of smaller hospital systems.
Patients are now spread more broadly across the country, with troubling hot spots from North Dakota to Kentucky. More people than ever are falling critically ill in rural areas, particularly in the Midwest and the Mountain West, where they must rely on hospitals that may have only a handful of beds. And experts worry that the growing numbers in need of hospital care will only get worse if cases continue to mount.
“I don’t really see any signs that things are slowing down and that concerns me a lot,” Caitlin M. Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, said. “It has to be our starting premise that it’s not going to slow down unless we force it to slow down.”
Even as hospitalizations and known cases of the virus have grown, daily deaths across the country have remained fairly steady at around 760 in recent days. But some experts fear that the rate of deaths is beginning to rise again. Upticks in deaths usually lag behind rises in cases and hospitalizations because of the time it takes for the virus to progress.
For families around the country, the mounting hospitalizations were frightening — and personal. Among the thousands of patients, there was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who had trouble catching her breath in Missouri, grandparents being treated in separate hospitals in Utah and a beloved uncle whose niece said he had been on a ventilator for five weeks in Wisconsin.
Amy Stadler, the niece, sat in a black minivan outside of the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium this week as she waited for a nurse to swab her nose. She said relatives had collected messages for her uncle — who is gravely ill — to be shared if his condition were to grow even more
The Trump administration says more than 120 million tests will be available in October nationwide. But far fewer Americans are actually being tested: only around 1 million per day, less than 30 million per month.
“I think people are confused. They don’t know what to do, whether to get a test. I think there was messaging as well — don’t get tested unless you really need it because you’re taking a test from someone else,” said Fred Turner, CEO of Curative, one of the nation’s top COVID testing companies. “The country now has more testing capacity.”
After a slow start, a growing number of Americans every day are swirling their cheeks, tickling their throats and plunging white swabs into their nostrils in search of the virus.
Soon, experts say, it might be done easily and cheaply in the privacy of your own home.
“We are getting to the point that there might be some candidates,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration’s testing czar on the prospect of at-home COVID tests. “I think we’ll get there. We’re not there yet.”
For now, public health officials and lab companies need more people to give samples.
Shifting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on who should be tested and when have caused confusion, experts say, along with President Donald Trump’s comment over the summer that he told top officials to “slow the testing down, please.”
Lengthy processing delays in some areas during the late summer months are also said to have compounded the impression that not everyone who wants to get tested could get tested.
“We definitely want people to be tested,” said Giroir.
“If you’re symptomatic you need to get tested. If you’ve been in close contact with a person known to have the disease, you should get tested,” Gioir told ABC News Live. “We need to have many individuals tested on a routine basis who are asymptomatic with no known exposure. We call that surveillance testing.”
ABC News got an exclusive look inside Curative’s lab in Washington, D.C., where more than 350 lab technicians and medical experts work around the clock to process more than 40,000 tests a day.
“We have extra capacity as well. So this is all designed to have scale-up capacity to 100,000 samples per day,” Turner said. The company handles nearly
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — One of Utah’s largest hospitals had no beds left Friday in its regular intensive-care unit as the governor declared the state’s weekslong spike in coronavirus cases “unsustainable.”
The University of Utah Health had to set up extra ICU beds staffed by doctors and nurses working overtime to care for its critical patients this week as the unit hit 104% capacity, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Russell Vinik.