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No COVID-19 vaccine mandate for Boise’s city workers, as health officials urge caution

·2 min read

Health officials Wednesday painted a dire portrait of COVID-19’s current impact on Boise, as hospital beds fill up and patients get sicker. No new restrictions, though, were announced during Mayor Lauren McLean’s news conference.

Officials from hospital systems across the city — including Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s and Primary Health — told reporters that cases in the region are on the rise, as the severely contagious and dangerous delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread throughout much of the country.

In Boise, that has meant more people getting sick, only a couple of months after the city lifted restrictions. Jim Souza, St. Luke’s chief physician executive, said St. Luke’s entire system was treating 78 patients with COVID-19, 15-20% of the entire system’s adult capacity.

“We’ve doubled in two weeks,” Souza said. “We had a child that was supposed to go to the pediatric intensive care unit who had their entire stay provided in the emergency department due to no beds.”

Officials have also noticed common trends among those arriving with COVID: They’re younger, they’re sicker, and they’re nearly all unvaccinated.

Fifty-seven percent of Ada County residents over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, according to state data, mirroring the national rate of 58%. The rest of Idaho, though, is a different story. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Idaho as having the fourth-lowest vaccination rate in the nation.

But Boise has no plans to mandate vaccines for city employees. Human Resources Director Sarah Borden said in a Tuesday email that, while the city is consulting with health officials, no mandate for vaccinations will be implemented. Last week, the city announced that masks would be required inside all city facilities.

McLean had instituted mask requirements throughout much of the pandemic before lifting the restrictions in May. She called on residents Wednesday to get vaccinated.

“I really deeply believe that we owe it to our kids and our communities … to get vaccinated,” she said.

Such cities as Denver and New York announced that they will require city employees to get vaccinated, as have some businesses, seeking to avoid pandemic-related shutdowns as the U.S. enters its latest virus surge.

Nampa has announced that it will not mandate vaccinations for its employees, and spokespeople for the cities of Meridian and Caldwell told the Idaho Statesman that they won’t either.

St. Luke’s, Saint Alphonsus and Primary Health are all requiring their employees to get vaccinated.

Primary Health CEO Dr. David Peterman said people need to wear masks indoors to curb the current outbreak. Souza commended McLean for her previous mask mandate, but said it was frustrating trying to persuade other government entities to add those requirements.

“I just felt like I was shouting into a hurricane,” Souza said. “Instead, I’m asking the public directly to take care of your neighbors.”

Statesman reporter Rachel Spacek contributed.

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