A group of Idahoans calling themselves the 97 Percent have organized in the wake of the canceled Tuesday evening Central District Health meeting, saying they want to support public health measures to address the state’s worsening coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday afternoon, several group members held a press conference at CDH headquarters in Boise, where hundreds of anti-mask and anti-public health ordinance protesters gathered on Tuesday as the health district’s board held a virtual meeting to discuss new measures. The meeting was quickly canceled at the urging of Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee, who expressed concern about the headquarters protest and protests at two board members’ homes.
“Last night, several people on social media ... came up with the concept of 97 Percent, which is the vast majority of Idahoans who are practicing social distancing, who are wearing their masks and doing their best,” said Nathaniel Hoffman, one of the group’s members, during the press conference.
Hoffman was also involved in a “remote rally” at Central District Health on Tuesday morning. Volunteers placed hundreds of signs on the grounds bearing messages from Idahoans in support of public health and health care workers. The signs were removed ahead of the Tuesday evening meeting on the advice of the health district’s attorney.
Hoffman said Wednesday that the group was looking for a way to share its viewpoints without gathering and potentially spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“We are gathered here today to remind everybody in Idaho that their voices matter, not just the loudest voices,” Hoffman said.
The group has already created a website, theidaho97.org, and created an online petition demanding action on public health from state leaders. The petition, which had more than 1,600 signatures by 5 p.m. Wednesday, also demands “that our duly elected government officials be allowed to do their constitutionally mandated jobs, free of intimidation and without putting themselves or their families at risk.”
“If we are allowing people who are really loud or really violent to stop the government from conducting its business, it really calls into question who runs things, right?” said Emily Walton, a group member and former College of Western Idaho trustee, during the Wednesday news conference.
Other group members speaking Wednesday included a local nurse, high school students and other community members, who repeated the emphasis on respecting science and data. Recent numbers show Idaho’s average daily case rate for COVID-19 has increased about 85% since Nov. 1, and the state continues to break records regularly for hospitalizations, deaths and infections.
In Ada County alone, which is part of CDH’s jurisdiction, more than 650 confirmed cases were added Wednesday.
“We trust the science and trust the people in this building,” said Boisean Dallas Gudgell. “We trust data-based science and what works: Wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands. That’s what works and that’s the only way we’re going to beat this.”
Hoffman said the group plans to submit its petition to the Central District Health board when its meeting to consider a new public health order is rescheduled.