By Steve West
With Idaho’s public health authorities considering face mask mandates and further restrictions on business activity throughout Idaho, it’s well past time to examine who is making such decisions and their qualifications to do so. Simply put, local boards of health are not designed for such orders. I know this having served as the bureau chief of the Idaho Bureau of Environmental Health and Safety at the state Department of Health and Welfare.
I also served as Regional Administrator for Southwest Idaho at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and Air Division Administrator at the same agency, and later worked as president and CEO of a small environmental engineering firm with many clients. Those years of work put me in close contact with the Central District Health Department, whose board will consider a mask mandate on Tuesday.
The board’s decisions thus far appear to are arbitrary decisions made by people with limited, if any, health expertise in addressing a pandemic. These “public servants” concluded they were more imbued with insights and knowledge than the medical doctors, scientists, epidemiologists and specialists in areas such as virology, infectious disease control, disease control, immunology, and other fields of actual scientific study.
Russell Duke, CDHD’s director, is a man I have known since the 1990s. I hired him while he was completing his Master’s Degree in Industrial Hygiene to manage the Idaho Worker Health and Safety Program. We worked together for several years and he has worked for the government ever since finishing school. While he has obviously managed to rise to the highest position in the agency, it is important to note that he does not have any meaningful experience working in the private sector, which makes for a critical blind spot that adversely impacts Idahoans and the economy.
The Board of Health to whom Duke reports is also similarly lacking in expertise when it comes to dealing with the specialized area of epidemiology and virology. While Jane Young, Betty Ann Nettleton, and Ted Epperly are medical practitioners appointed to the board, none has the specific COVID 19 expertise exceeding recognized experts to make unilateral decisions affecting the conduct of Idahoans or businesses in the region. Their work—Young is a nurse practitioner, Nettleton is a registered nurse, and Epperly is a family practice doctor—is not sufficient to be making decisions with finality about face masks nor determine that businesses are to be shutdown indefinitely.
The remaining members of the CDHD board of health are county commissioners and state legislators, whose private sector backgrounds are certainly useful in the ordinary operation of the board, but not so much when it comes the unusual and highly specialized medical questions raised recently by Covid-19. To my knowledge, none of these officials have undergone the training needed to understand the weighty public health concerns that have presented themselves.
It is unfortunate that seven people on the CDHD Board of Health, none of whom is a recognized expert on COVID-19 or responding to a pandemic, will vote to limit the freedoms and lives of the residents of Ada County and beyond. It’s also frustrating that the Board of Health is fairly unaccountable. Ada County has the bulk of the votes on the board, but only one person from Ada County holds an elective office. The precise structure of these regional public health boards makes it next to impossible for faulty decision to be overturned even when public reaction is overwhelmingly negative.
This country has been under siege from public health fascism by those wanting to mandate vaccines, diets, beverages, and the use of other legal products or activities. Many in public health can’t resist trying to exercise strong, autocratic control, like requiring people to wear face masks and shutting down businesses despite a lack of scientific foundation.
Idaho’s public health boards are limiting freedom under the guise of public health expertise where there is none. If allowed to continue, there’s no limit to the mandates we might have to endure. The time to push back and make our voices heard is now.
Steve West can be reached at [email protected].