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‘We sacrificed’: City’s COVID response dominates Boise Mayor Lauren McLean’s address

·3 min read

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean spent a good deal of time discussing the COVID-19 pandemic — the dominant topic during her time in office — at her State of the City address on Thursday, in which she recapped a uniquely challenging year for Idaho’s capital city.

The mayor spoke about Boise’s history, highlighting how the city overcame similar challenges of disease, housing shortages and environmental problems decades ago.

In particular, she focused on the city’s response to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the sacrifices people made and the resemblance they bore to the present day.

“We wore masks, we physically distanced, we sacrificed,” McLean said. “We did it to protect each other and to honor (the health care workers’) sacrifice.”

Her speech came the same day that Idaho hospitals were given permission to ration care to patients, as the large intake of unvaccinated patients with COVID-19 strains available resources. Nearly 700 Idahoans were hospitalized with the disease as of Monday, according to state data — the most the state has had during the ongoing crisis.

McLean called on the state to implement a response to the current surge, adding that those who have gotten the vaccine are being “unfairly impacted.” She pointed to low vaccine rates in other Treasure Valley communities as part of the problem.

Gov. Brad Little has announced no new COVID-19 restrictions since crisis standards of care were announced for hospitals.

“I am asking the state to step up and do the right thing,” McLean said. “We owe it to those who have put their own health on the line to care for us.”

In an interview with the Statesman after her address, McLean did not specify what those requirements should look like, adding simply that the state needs “regional responses” to the current crisis.

Boise has required masks inside all city facilities and recently issued vaccine and testing requirements for large events permitted by the city. However, city restrictions remain far less severe than they were early in the pandemic — such as limiting public gatherings, requiring masks inside all public buildings and mandating social distancing in restaurants — when hospitalizations were fewer and vaccines unavailable.

McLean told the Statesman that she’s having daily conversations with health professionals and that the recent event requirements remain the most effective tool.

“If we need more, we’ll adjust for more,” she said.

Health care officials told reporters Thursday that some hospitals have run out of beds and that some are making room for additional morgue space to handle all of the dying patients. St. Luke’s said it has more than 400 workers out because of COVID-19.

McLean honored local health care workers, making note of the extreme demands the industry is facing as hospital rooms continue to fill at a rapid pace.

“You have been on the front lines of this pandemic for more than a year and a half,” McLean said. “Now, you’re being called to do even more.”

The mayor also spent time during her address announcing accomplishments outside the realm of the pandemic.

Boise is expected to meet its goal of 100% clean electricity by 2023, several years before the original 2030 deadline, she said. McLean also highlighted the recent purchase of electric garbage trucks.

McLean also spoke about the Boise Police Department’s plan to hire around 100 additional officers in response to the city’s rapid population growth.

McLean’s speech was originally scheduled to take place at Julia Davis Park. Because of the surge in COVID-19 cases, public attendance was limited to city officials and the speech was streamed virtually.

Boise’s first elected female mayor said she’s relished the position she holds, even with the challenges it has presented.

“People ask what it’s like to be a new mayor, your mayor, during the pandemic — and I would say it’s an honor beyond words,” she said.

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