Idaho’s COVID-19 death total climbs again; Kootenai County mandates face masks

Posted at 1:02 PM, Jul 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-24 15:02:04-04

This article was written by Michael Lycklama, Julia Frankel and Ruth Brown from the Idaho Statesman

Idaho continued its string of deadly days in the battle with COVID-19 on Thursday, reporting six new coronavirus-related deaths, according to the state and local health departments.

Thursday’s six new deaths brings the state total to 142, including 39 in the past nine days.

Ada County reported three new deaths, its fourth straight day with a death. It has recorded 12 deaths in the past four days and now has 44 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic started in March.

Kootenai County reported two new deaths Thursday, its first casualties since June 15. It now has three overall.

Canyon County added one new death, its third straight day with a death. It now has 23 overall.

Information on the age or gender of the deceased was not available.


The Panhandle Health District board voted to mandate masks in Kootenai County in a public meeting Thursday, stirring shouts of protest from the largely unmasked crowd that gathered in the county administrative building.

The 4-2 vote came after a public commentary session during which many Kootenai County residents advocated against the mandate as a crowd of anti-mask protesters gathered outside the building. Over 1,000 viewers tuned into the live stream of the meeting.

Under the approved mask order — which goes into effect immediately — all residents of Kootenai County must wear a mask covering their nose and mouth in public when a physical distance of 6 feet from the nearest person is not possible.

The mask mandate does not apply to those with medical exemptions, children under the age of 2, on-duty law enforcement officers, or those eating or drinking if seated at an outdoor restaurant.

Several Kootenai residents said the mask mandate was an unconstitutional and dictatorial infringement on personal rights.

A presentation from Jon Ness, CEO of Kootenai Health, and Jeremy Evans, executive vice president of Kootenai Health hospital and regional operations, revealed that the case count was growing in the county. To date, the county has had 1,195 confirmed cases. Two-thirds of the 65 total hospitalizations have occurred in the last three weeks. The briefing included the information that Kootenai has had four coronavirus-related deaths; only three have been reported so far by Panhandle.

“We are in danger of becoming a hot spot,” Ness said. When asked what he thought of the mask mandate, Ness said, “It seems we need to do more.”

Evans said Kootenai County hospital capacity was also being stretched. The 26 ICU beds normally available have been scaled up to 32 beds, with six reserved for critical care. If the 32 beds become filled, Evans said, other hospital services would have to be scaled down to account for increased care for patients with COVID-19.

“We’re at the tipping point,” Evans said.

But some voting members of the district board joined the attendees in questioning the severity of the pandemic and advocating against the mask mandate, spreading misinformation that masks are not effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Scientific models and studies have shown the effectiveness of masks in lowering the infection rate.

“I don’t see how mandating a mask, N-95 or cloth, is the answer to this,” board member and Bonner County Commissioner Glen Bailey said.

Before the vote, Jai Nelson, a board member and resident nurse in the Panhandle district, pleaded with her fellow board members to vote for a mask mandate.

“It’s the most critical public health crisis in our lifetime,” Nelson said. “If a public health board is ever going to take any action, shouldn’t it be now? … It’s time to do the right thing.”

Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger said at a Panhandle Health Board meeting July 17 that the sheriff’s office and law enforcement agencies did not have the capacity to enforce a mask ban.


Dr. Laura McGeorge, St. Luke’s Health System medical director, said Thursday that Southwest District Health’s decision to only recommend masks was “just incredibly disappointing.”

According to a statement sent to SWDH by St. Luke’s, the health system on Monday experienced an all-time high of 100 COVID-19 hospitalizations. On Tuesday morning, the intensive care units in Nampa and Meridian were both full, except for one ICU bed in Meridian that is kept open for patients who need resuscitation.

On Thursday afternoon, McGeorge said the Nampa ICU had only one bed open. This is an ongoing challenge the hospitals will face as the caseload keeps growing.

Southwest District Health has reported 12 coronavirus-related deaths in Canyon County in the past 10 days.

“We are seeing huge (case) volume increases in both Nampa and Meridian,” McGeorge said Thursday. “Last week I had a really, really hard week because we lost one of our area providers (Samantha Hickey) to COVID in Canyon County. And I think all of us are going through a tough time with this.

“When we don’t have the community cooperating, or parts of the community cooperating, and trying to beat down this pandemic, it’s really heartbreaking,” she said.


Idaho’s seven health districts reported 435 new confirmed coronavirus cases Thursday, the 15th time in the past 17 days the state has added 400 or more cases.

Thursday’s cases bring Idaho’s total to 15,758 confirmed cases, a 78% increase from two weeks ago.

Ada County reported the most cases with 170 to lift its state-leading total to 6,236. Canyon County followed with 84, its second straight day under 100 after topping the century mark eight days in a row. It now has 3,557 confirmed cases.

South Central Public Health District removed two cases from Blaine County’s total, leaving it with 545.

Other counties reporting new cases include: Bannock 5 new (236 total), Bear Lake 2 new (9 total), Benewah 1 new (30 total), Bingham 4 new (140 total), Bonner 12 new (108 total), Bonneville 17 new (318 total), Boundary 7 new (27 total), Cassia 2 new (348 total), Clearwater 6 new (13 total), Fremont 3 new (26 total), Gem 9 new (109 total), Gooding 4 new (88 total), Jefferson 3 new (54 total), Jerome 1 new (316 total), Kootenai 56 new (1195 total), Latah 2 new (54 total), Lincoln 2 new (40 total), Madison 3 new (84 total), Minidoka 8 new (308 total), Owyhee 3 new (156 total), Power 1 new (25 total), Shoshone 5 new (36 total), Twin Falls 26 new (865 total) and Valley 1 new (39 total).

The state health department also reported 29 new probable cases Thursday, bringing the state’s total of probable cases to 1,030.


Another 32 health care workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing Idaho’s total to 1,012, according to the state health department.

Idaho has seen a steady increase in health care workers coming down with COVID-19, recording 128 in four days.

The state health department also added 23 new hospitalizations Thursday and six new cases requiring intensive care. It also reported 5,008 cases are “presumed recovered.”


Hospitalizations: Health and Welfare reports that there have been 697 hospitalizations due to the coronavirus, 207 admissions to the ICU and 1,012 health care workers who have been infected. The hospital and health care numbers are based on cases with completed investigations into contacts, not the full number of positives.

Testing totals: At the end of the day Wednesday, Health and Welfare reported that 159,163 tests had been completed statewide. About 9.9% of those have been positive for COVID-19.

Counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases: Ada 6,236, Adams 14, Bannock 236, Bear Lake 9, Benewah 30, Bingham 140, Blaine 545, Boise 19, Bonner 108, Bonneville 318, Boundary 27, Camas 1, Canyon 3,557, Caribou 22, Cassia 348, Clearwater 13, Custer 7, Elmore 126, Franklin 35, Fremont 26, Gem 109, Gooding 88, Idaho 22, Jefferson 54, Jerome 316, Kootenai 1,195, Latah 54, Lemhi 7, Lincoln 40, Madison 84, Minidoka 308, Nez Perce 105, Oneida 8, Owyhee 156, Payette 236, Power 25, Shoshone 36, Teton 44, Twin Falls 865, Valley 39 and Washington 150.

Counties with community spread: Ada, Bannock, Benewah, Bingham, Blaine, Boise, Bonner, Bonneville, Canyon, Caribou, Cassia, Clearwater, Custer, Elmore, Fremont, Gem, Gooding, Idaho, Jefferson, Jerome, Kootenai, Latah, Lemhi, Lewis, Lincoln, Madison, Minidoka, Nez Perce, Oneida, Owyhee, Payette, Power, Teton, Twin Falls, Valley and Washington.