A woman wearing a protective face mask is seen walking in the reflection of a thrift store window in historic downtown Nampa (Reuters) – As the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic burns through the rural U.S. state of Idaho, health officials say they don’t have enough tests to track the disease’s spread or sufficient medical workers to help the sick.
It’s not for want of funding.
The state’s Republican-led legislature this year voted down $40 million in federal aid available for COVID-19 testing in schools. Another $1.8 billion in pandemic-related federal assistance is sitting idle in the state treasury, waiting for lawmakers to deploy it.
Some Idaho legislators have accused Washington of overreach and reckless spending. Others see testing as disruptive and unnecessary, particularly in schools, since relatively few children have died from the disease.
"If you want your kids in school, you can’t be testing," said state Representative Ben Adams, a Republican who represents Nampa, a city of about 100,000 people in southwestern Idaho.
Meanwhile, the state is reporting the fifth-highest infection rate in the United States, at 369 confirmed cases per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Schools in at least 14 of Idaho’s 115 districts, including Nampa, have had to close temporarily due to COVID-19 outbreaks since the start of the year, according to Burbio, a digital platform that tracks U.S. school activity.
Idaho’s experience illustrates how political ideology and polarization around the COVID-19 epidemic have played a role in the decision of mostly conservative states to reject some federal funding meant to help locals officials battle the virus and its economic fallout.
For example, Idaho was one of 26 Republican-led states that ended enhanced federally funded unemployment benefits before they were due to expire in September. Gov. Brad Little claimed that money was discouraging the jobless from returning to work. At least six studies have found that the extra benefits have had little to no impact on the U.S. labor market.