The 20-day test

Hagadone News Network | November 13, 2020 9:31 AM

Over the next 20 days, the preventive actions Idahoans take against spreading COVID could make or break the state's continued economic prosperity.

In Gov. Brad Little's address at the Coeur d'Alene Regional Chamber of Commerce's Thursday luncheon, he said the state is at a tipping point managing community spread. Not only would this affect Idaho's economic health, but could damage the ability of health care services and educational institutions to function.

"There are too many health care workers sick with COVID, and almost every hospital in the state is seeing diminished capacity for critical needs, both COVID and non-COVID," Little said. "If you don't know what that means, it means crisis standard care. Which is basically what you do in the military when you have to triage and decide who lives and who dies."

Health care leaders statewide have warned that they are only weeks away from reaching absolute capacity, he said. If this occurs, hospitals and medical providers will be forced to ration their services and turn away patients.

Little said Idaho is not alone, as he learned from a White House briefing that hospitals in Washington, Montana, the Dakotas, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin are battling capacity issues.

"What we do in the coming weeks and months will determine whether we can continue our economic rebound, protect lives, and keep our kids in school," Little said. "I ask you for your support in helping slow the spread of this dangerous virus in our communities. We all need to wear masks in public, keep our distance and also particularly stay home if you're sick or you've been exposed."

Little said there is light on the horizon, as the likelihood of a federally approved COVID-19 vaccine could come as early as January. Idaho's COVID-19 vaccination advisory committee is working on the state's distribution plan.

"Friends, this is a tough time," he said. "There is daylight out there with this vaccine coming, but what we do in the next 20 days, what we do to get through Thanksgiving and these winter months as more people go inside is going to determine the economic pathway for Idaho and this nation going forward."

Over the last four months, Idaho's economy has exceeded administration projections, Little said, primarily due to the business community's resiliency and agility. Reporting a historic $530 million budget surplus, the state has put more money back into agency services than it has in years.

"Idaho is the No. 1 state for economic management, and my personal favorite, personal income growth over the last year," Little said. "Our pension liability is one of the nation's best, and our employment liability again is one of the best."

Another contributor to Idaho's leading economy is the massive wave of growth in population and industry. Since the pandemic, the state has had younger couples relocating to the state's urban and rural areas thanks to remote working popularity, Little said. To support this, the governor pumped $50 million in CARES Act funding toward investments in broadband infrastructure, $5 million of which went to Kootenai County projects.

Other notable CARES Act investments the governor pointed out during the luncheon were: The Idaho Rebound Cash Grants for Small Businesses provided $75 million to over 8,700 small businesses across the state; a $200 million property tax relief program that leveraged federal coronavirus CARES Act dollars to offer between a 10-20% reduction of property taxes for Idaho's taxpayers; a $200 million transfer to the Idaho Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to prevent higher tax increases on small businesses and employers next year.

"I want to thank the business community for stepping up to put Idaho in the position we are in to engage the economy," Little said.