The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has apologized after a staffer threatened, via email, to continue the COVID-19 shutdown until state residents comply with the governor’s stay-home order, which began more than three weeks ago.
On Friday, DHW staffer Ryan Soukup sent to his colleagues a meme that threatens Idahoans with an indefinite shutdown.
The meme, pictured below, features the following language:
Keep complaining about the quarantine
You just bought yourself another month.
You wanna keep going, pal?
I can do this all 2020.
On his LinkedIn profile, Soukup lists himself as a communications specialist at the department. He’s worked for the agency since September 2017.
It’s unclear how many DHW staffers received the email. It’s unknown if Soukup received any responses to his message. IFF submitted a records request for all emails sent or received by Soukup on April 17. The agency will deliver the emails by April 30, a DHW staffer confirmed.
After the Idaho Freedom Foundation emailed the agency to verify the authenticity of Soukup’s email, agency spokesman Niki Forbing-Orr apologized profusely.
“That email in no way represents the feelings of the Director or the department about the stay-home order for COVID-19,” Forbing-Orr wrote in a message to the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
She added that Soukup’s email and threat don’t represent the attitude of DHW staffers.
“DHW staff is working hard to slow the spread and flatten the curve of COVID-19, and we all understand and are grateful for the sacrifices Idahoans have been making. We are all eager for things to get back to normal. We sincerely apologize for this.”
State Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, told the Idaho Freedom Foundation that the message was completely inappropriate, but not surprising.
“This meme produced by a Department of Health and Welfare employee is completely unprofessional,” Christensen told IFF. “It is another bureaucratic official assuming they have overreaching powers over the freedom of the citizens of Idaho. Good luck with your enforcement measures. Idahoans won't stand for it.”
Soukup's email comes less than a month after the department ignited severe backlash by creating a website that encouraged Idahoans to tattle on businesses that weren’t complying with Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s original stay-home order. Little issued his first order on March 25, and he extended that order, with some modest modifications, on April 15.
Thousands of Idahoans took to social media platforms to overload the site with fake reports, and several Republican lawmakers urged DHW Director Dave Jeppesen to take the form down. The department deleted it days later, shortly after posting it.
As for Soukup, it’s unclear if he will face any disciplinary action.