NAMPA — As the coronavirus and the delta variant spread throughout Idaho and the Treasure Valley, cities are taking differing approaches to the pandemic.
On Monday, at its city council meeting, Nampa approved a resolution to not mandate city employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The decision came on the heals of last week, when the city of Boise re-implemented a face mask requirement in city buildings. Boise’s decision followed new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people in coronavirus hotspots should wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Nampa’s resolution on Monday followed health care officials publicizing the need for higher vaccination rates in order to save lives and slow down the pandemic. There are also no mask requirements implemented in the city.
“While the pandemic has created divisions over the past year, we encourage all residents to be mindful and respectful of the decisions of others,” Nampa’s resolution says. “... While respecting the rights of employers to determine their own conditions of employment, we also respect the concerns of employees who do not wish to receive the COVID vaccine.”
The resolution says the city encourages employers to “consider how to accommodate the personal health care decisions of their employees.”
In a virtual press conference Tuesday, officials from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said the delta variant is now the dominant variant of the virus in Idaho. The delta variant is at least twice as contagious as previous variants circulating in Idaho, said Kathryn Turner, the state’s deputy public health researcher. That means instead of passing the virus along to two-to-three people on average, it could now be passed on to five-to-nine people, according to research.
Gov. Brad Little spoke at the beginning of Tuesday’s press conference, asking those still on the fence about the vaccine to consider speaking to a doctor about it. He correlated higher vaccine rates to students completing an uninterrupted school year.
On July 22, doctors from St. Luke’s Health System, Primary Health Group and Saint Alphonsus Health System held a press conference explaining that getting more people vaccinated is key to avoiding more cases, more hospitalizations and more deaths.
From January to June about 99% of COVID-19 deaths in Idaho have been among unvaccinated individuals, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. As of Tuesday, 46.1% of Idahoans ages 12 and up have been fully vaccinated. The national figure is 58.1%.
All three health systems — St. Luke’s, Primary and Saint Alphonsus — are requiring employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by the fall. Exceptions could be made for religious or medical reasons.
In the first seven days of July, there were 79.1 cases per day statewide, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. In the seven days from July 27 to Aug. 2, there were 358.9 cases per day in Idaho. Since July 1, there’s been a doubling of the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals and intensive care units, Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said.
While the delta variant has presented new challenges, Jeppesen said vaccination rates have ticked up in the past couple weeks. The good news for vaccinated people, Turner said, is that death and severe illness is significantly less likely if they catch COVID-19.
“The currently-authorized vaccines in the U.S. do provide protection against this variant,” Turner said, “and vaccination is one of the best ways to reduce the chance of additional viral mutations in the future.”
Though they didn’t declare resolutions like Nampa, the cities of Boise, Meridian and Caldwell have not mandated city employees to receive the vaccine.
Sarah Borden, the city of Boise’s human resources director, said the city is in daily communication with health officials.
“We are continuing to reiterate the need for people to choose to get vaccinated,” Borden wrote in an email, “and we're counting on both our employees and community members to protect each other through vaccinations.”
The city of Caldwell is leaving the decision up to employees.
“Ultimately we know it is a individual’s choice,” Caldwell spokeswoman Bianca Stevenson said in an email. “We respect and support their right to choose. We encourage them to be kind to others in whatever route they choose to go.”
The city of Meridian is not considering a vaccine requirement either, spokeswoman Stephany Galbreaith said in an email.
Across the nation, other cities are taking different measures. On Monday, New York City announced vaccine requirements for people to enter restaurants and gyms beginning in September. Last week, Los Angeles announced city employees must be vaccinated or receive weekly COVID-19 tests.
“As we look forward,” Jeppesen said, “we see the fall with the return of the flu season and people returning to indoor activities, which leaves us concerned.”