ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now to Idaho, a state that doesn't often come up when people talk about coronavirus hot spots. But the number of cases there has quadrupled since mid-June. Idaho Gov. Brad Little told us on Monday that he thinks his state's hospitals can handle the surge.
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BRAD LITTLE: We don't believe there's - you know, on the horizon, there's any need to send people out of state. And, in fact, some of our numbers have started to come down.
SHAPIRO: But state hospital leaders don't sound so sure and they want officials like the governor to take more action. Rachel Cohen of Boise State Public Radio reports.
RACHEL COHEN, BYLINE: Hospitalizations in Idaho due to COVID-19 have tripled in the past two weeks, says Chris Roth, the head of Idaho's largest hospital system, St. Luke's.
CHRIS ROTH: If we do not reverse this trend, we are headed for a crisis.
COHEN: The number of coronavirus tests coming back positive is up sharply, and current projections show COVID-19 hospital admissions doubling every two weeks.
ROTH: We're on a course of seeing exponential increases. And until and unless we change our collective behaviors, those will continue.
COHEN: Two intensive care units at St. Luke's hospitals are now full and have to send patients to their main facility in Boise. That means the ICU there is now running at about 130% of normal capacity. Respiratory therapists are being sent from a hospital two hours away to help out. Idaho's major hospitals are walking a fine line. They want people in the community to take the virus seriously, but they're also careful to say they aren't full; they can still care for all their patients.
ROTH: We are taking care of everybody who needs care today, and we will continue to do that. But August will be too late, and we will find ourselves in a situation where that could very well change.
COHEN: An NPR analysis shows the Boise area is among the places in America where hospitals are most likely to reach capacity due to coronavirus. It has among the worst ratios of available beds to people who might need them with only about 2,000 beds total and the majority of Idaho's roughly 560 new coronavirus cases a day.
DAVID PETERMAN: If we don't take action in terms of masking, distancing, hand-washing, then absolutely, we will be Arizona. We will be Texas. Of course we will.
COHEN: Dr. David Peterman is the CEO of Idaho's largest independent medical group. He's calling for a statewide mask mandate. Republican Gov. Brad Little is leaving mask rules to local officials, including health districts. Those district boards are often run by county commissioners, many of whom oppose mandates and some of whom have shared misinformation on masks. Angry protesters, including antigovernment extremist Ammon Bundy, came to a big district meeting that hospital leaders were scheduled to address.
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AMMON BUNDY: This is not your building. This is not your building. No, no, no, no, no. We will not be pushed - locked out.
COHEN: That meeting has now been canceled twice due to safety concerns. Peterman says it's not surprising people here are opposed to government mask orders.
PETERMAN: Idaho is in the West, and it has that Western independence flavor. And frankly, this is a conservative state which emphasizes local jurisdictions and local control.
COHEN: Gov. Little says face masks are a matter of personal responsibility and that mandates don't make sense where there are no positive cases. But Idaho is down to just two counties with no coronavirus cases, and rural parts of the state are seeing spikes too.
For NPR news, I'm Rachel Cohen in Boise.
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