COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho — The congregation of Candlelight Christian Fellowship gathered around tables in the church sanctuary one night last week to sip coffee and grapple with theological questions. From down the hall came the laughter of dozens of children at play.
With a potluck dinner, no masks and plenty of shared hugs, the night felt like a throwback to the pre-pandemic era except for a noticeable exception on the stage: The lead pastor, Paul Van Noy, was addressing the congregation with the aid of supplemental oxygen, piped into his nostrils from a small tank.
About a month ago, Mr. Van Noy, 60, was discharged from a hospital in a wheelchair after a Covid-19 infection brought him to the brink of death. But while that scare ravaged his lungs and rattled the church, it has done little to alter the growing sentiment among many people in northern Idaho that the coronavirus cannot be stopped and efforts to contain it are doing more harm than good.
“I think we just open up and we just let it take its course,” said Nancy Hillberg, 68, as church members mingled after the service. “Just let it be done.”
Amid a record spike of coronavirus cases and the final days of the presidential election, President Trump and his administration have expressed increasing helplessness at containing the virus, focusing instead on improvements in survivability and trying to hold the economy together. While it is a theme welcomed by many of the president’s supporters, it has proved alarming to health officials, including those at the hospital that cared for Mr. Van Noy, who are encountering rising resistance to their calls for unity in combating a pandemic that has already claimed nearly 230,000 Americans and threatens to take many more.
In northern Idaho, which is facing record cases and hospitalizations, the local health board last month repealed a requirement that people wear masks in Kootenai County, where Candlelight Christian Fellowship is.
“I personally do not care whether anybody wears a mask or not,” Walt Kirby, a member of the board, said at a public hearing on the issue. “If they want to be dumb enough to walk around out there and expose themselves and others to this, that’s fine with me.
“I’m just sitting back and watching them catch it and die. Hopefully I’ll live through it.”
In an interview later, Mr. Kirby said that he initially supported the mask mandate as a strategy to contain the virus and that, at age 90, he wears one whenever he is out in public.
But the mask requirement resulted in immense backlash, he said, in a part of the country where many people moved to escape what they see as an overbearing government.
Governors around the country, particularly Republican ones, are following the president’s lead in resisting new restrictions against a virus that has powerfully persisted despite lockdowns in some areas over the spring and summer.
Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota wrote that “there is no way