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Experts: Asymptomatic carriers likely contributing to rise in COVID-19 cases in Treasure Valley

Posted at 5:34 PM, Jul 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-09 20:16:37-04

BOISE, Idaho — Should masks be mandatory in Ada County? The retired president and CEO of St. Luke’s thinks so.

Dr. David Pate, who is also on Governor Brad Little’s coronavirus workgroup, says wearing masks is a critically important part of the solution to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Treasure Valley.

“I don't think we've seen the worst of this yet,” Dr. Pate said. “People are looking at death rates right now and thinking this isn't a big deal. This is not the time you see the deaths. Wait for another few weeks or a month; that's when we'll see the big uptick in deaths. If we don't act now, we are going to set ourselves on the path to having excess hospitalizations and excess deaths.”

As we learned in the governor’s press conference Thursday afternoon, the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests and the number of hospitalizations are on the rise.

Dr. Pate thinks this current spike in cases should be taken even more seriously than the increase in March because there’s likely a large number of young asymptomatic carriers unknowingly spreading the virus to others.

“We are just now starting to see those numbers of older people that probably were infected by younger people showing up,” Dr. Pate said. “If we can get upwards of 80-90% of people wearing masks, we will bring this increase in cases to a very low level. We know that.”

At Thursday's press conference, state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn agreed, "We know it can be carried asymptotically, and not only that but spread," Hahn said. "In some ways, asymptomatic people may represent more of a threat; they're not staying home, they feel fine. So they're going to work, they're going out, so I absolutely agree with Dr. Pate that it's a very concerning time."

As we previously reported, Central District Health may vote next week on a mask mandate in Ada County, which many people see as a way to help the economy in the long run.

“I would just ask young people and everybody to think back to late March and April and did you enjoy being locked down? Your favorite restaurants were closed, you couldn't go to work,” Dr. Pate said. “If you didn't enjoy that, let's not force leaders that that's the only option to have left.”

Although older individuals with underlying health issues are more likely to die from COVID-19, Dr. Pate says a fair number of hospitalized patients right now are in the twenties, thirties, and forties.

“Most young people will recover from this illness relatively uneventfully, but we can't predict who's going to have a mild course and who's going to have a really bad course,” Pate said. “I just talked to one of my colleagues in Texas yesterday and they had a 20-year-old who was perfectly fine, got sick, came into the emergency room, and died within hours.”

Many Idahoans have been outspoken about their refusal to wear masks. A recent public health order issued in the city of Boise prompted protests at city hall.

“We mandate a lot of other things and I'm not hearing cries of outrage,” Dr. Pate said. “Most of us expect that if we're in a restaurant, we're not going to see someone come in barefoot and without a shirt on. We mandate that you actually have to wear clothes, but there are no big cries of outrage about that.”