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Time for a new approach

I once worked as a salesman for a men’s store. One summer day, we received a shipment of sheepskin coats shipped to Nampa, Idaho from Phoenix, Arizona. I recognized these coats as the same ones we had sold the prior winter. The corporate buyer had purchased sheepskin coats for the entire chain, including the Phoenix store. But it wasn’t until the winter passed and the Phoenix store was unable to sell a single coat that the corporate leaders figured out that a “one size fits all” approach failed to sell a single sheepskin coat in Arizona.

It seems the larger something gets the less efficient it becomes. This is especially true for government. I’ve heard political leaders say the federal government shouldn’t be telling Idaho how to run the state because Idaho knows best how to govern its own affairs. As a general principle, I agree. Yet Idaho is now living under a state-wide order from the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare that applies a “one size fits all” COVID-19 approach.

We know that Ada and Blaine Counties are the hot spots of COVID-19 infection. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, as of April 8, Ada and Blaine Counties had 495 and 450 confirmed cases, respectively. On the other hand, Boundary, Shoshone, Benewah, Clearwater, Lewis, Lemhi, Clark, Boise, Butte, Oneida, Franklin and Bear Lake counties had not a single confirmed case of COVID-19. Bonneville County had 11 confirmed cases. The data confirms that the restrictions necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19 in Ada and Blaine Counties simply don’t apply to many other Idaho counties.

Two things need to happen when the stay in place order expires on April 15. First, the director should not continue the order. Instead, the order mandating behavior should be replaced with “best practices” recommendations from the director based on the information learned to date. Idaho citizens will make the right decisions for themselves, and particularly for the safety of others, if they are asked and encouraged to implement best practices for the public’s safety rather than being ordered to do so. Public pressure to comply with those best practices will be far more effective in achieving compliance than threats of possible law enforcement action that likely won’t happen anyway.

Second, the director should defer to each of Idaho’s 44 counties for promoting the recommended best practices based on the situational needs of each individual county — again, not by threat of law but by social encouragement. I trust the counties to review and support best practices recommendations so that local citizens will know what best practices should be followed in their local communities. Routing the leadership responsibility for promoting best practices from state-wide to local counties will cause the great people of Idaho to take ownership of their safety and the safety of others locally where those best practices can be tailored to fit.

A one size fits all approach does not make sense when it comes to sheepskin coats in Phoenix, Arizona. Nor does it make sense when it comes to meeting the situational needs of Idaho citizens at times like these.

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