Editorial Roundup: Idaho

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Idaho newspapers:

The Idahoan surfing the waves of partisanship

The Lewiston Tribune

Sept. 16

Congressman Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, says it’s the times that are hyperpartisan, not him.

“While caucus organizations have an important role to play, in the current climate, bipartisan efforts are accomplished due to reputation and professional relationships with other members of Congress,” as his campaign put it to Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press last week.

Or that it’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s fault.

“The speaker only hears bills in consideration of her party,” Fulcher’s campaign continued. “That has reduced incentives for Republicans to introduce legislation, and has ultimately led to a litany of extreme policy that passed the House just to die in the Senate.”

That’s quite a difference from the fellow who went to Washington, D.C., almost two years ago, pledging to find common ground: “I want to be able to have a conversation with anyone in Congress, and have them know me on a first-name basis,” he said. “I might not have a lot in common with some of them, but a lot of coalition-building can be done by individuals who don’t necessarily have things in common.”

Nonetheless, if Congress is facing a wave of partisanship, the 1st District congressman finds himself riding its crest — and the company he’s keeping includes some of the most extreme members of the left and the right.

So notes Fulcher’s Democratic challenger, Rudy Soto, who cites a joint study from the Lugar Center of Washington, D.C., and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. Their annual Bipartisanship Index, which measures how often Republicans and Democrats cross the aisle to sponsor or cosponsor legislation, places Fulcher as the 422nd least bipartisian member — out of 437. The House has 435 members, but vacancies filled by special elections account for the higher number.

That puts Fulcher in the same league as the “squad” — liberal Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York ranked 426th), Ilhan Omar of Minnesota (425th), Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts (428th) and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan (415th).

Also sharing the bottom rungs with the Idaho Republican are such House Freedom Caucus stalwarts as Congressmen Jim Jordan Ohio (ranked 434th), Louie Gohmert of Texas (431st) and Steve King of Iowa (411th), who just lost his reelection bid.

Fulcher won’t find cover among his colleagues from Idaho or from congressional districts that share a border with his own. Among them:

- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. —28th.

- Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev. — 131st.

- Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash. — 197th.

- Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore. — 199th.

- Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho — 271st.

- Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont. — 356th.

Even accounting for Gianforte, their average score is about half that of the Idaho freshman.

Fulcher’s voting record adds to his status as a partisan outlier.

Earlier in his term, 357 members of Congress — including Simpson, McMorris Rodgers and 147 other Republicans — expressed congressional support for NATO. Why did Fulcher vote no?

Why was Fulcher among a handful of Republicans in March who voted against an early economic aid package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

When Simpson and McMorris Rodgers joined a majority of House members by voting to remove statues depicting Confederate leaders from the nation’s Capitol, why did Fulcher vote no?

For that matter, why did Fulcher join the fringe in opposing the Great American Outdoors Act?

Nor would you find the likes of Simpson or McMorris Rodgers joining Fulcher and about 30 Republicans last October when they barged into a secure hearing room — in breach of House and security rules — to disrupt House hearings into President Donald Trump’s alleged shakedown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for information on former Vice President Joe Biden.

When that investigation led to a House impeachment vote against Trump, Fulcher went to the limit once more.

“In a day heavy in verbal debate, I choose to use my time to enumerate in detail every high crime and misdemeanor committed by the president of the United States. I will do so now,” he said. Fulcher then mocked the proceedings with about 20 seconds of silence.

Nobody is disputing Fulcher’s characterization of the times as polarized.

But what is he doing to solve the problem?

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

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To avoid a ‘twindemic’ of influenza and coronavirus in Idaho, get your flu shot now

Idaho Statesman

Sept. 21

With the coronavirus pandemic still a threat, and as many schools and colleges reopen and sports resume, it’s scary to think about what the flu season could look like this year.

Especially since Idaho ranked fourth-lowest in the nation for children receiving a flu vaccination, at just 48%, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics compiled by QuoteWizard. This year, it’s vital to get that number up.

“I urge Idahoans to get a flu shot and ramp up your personal actions to prevent the spread of both the coronavirus and the flu,” Gov. Brad Little said in a recent press conference.

With a potentially deadly combination of flu cases and COVID-19 cases hitting at the same time, some are calling the possible health crisis a “twindemic.”

“We know that flu is bringing significant illness to our populations (every year), significant hospitalizations because of severe illness for influenza, and death,” Dr. Brian Birch, with St. Luke’s Health System, told me in a virtual interview. “This year, I would say it’s even more important than previous years, based upon a couple of different factors.”

One, he said, is that seasonal flu already puts a strain on the health care system, and we need to relieve that strain as much as possible to maintain capacity for COVID-19 patients. If we can reduce the number of patients in the hospital and clinics and doctors’ offices from the flu, it frees up that capacity for people who are sick from coronavirus.

“The CDC estimated last year about 410,000 to 740,000 flu hospitalizations,” Birch said. “So you add that on top of the COVID hospitalizations and that in itself a typical flu season where our resources are already stretched thin, we’ll be stretched even thinner.”

That’s a point Little echoed last week.

“These variables threaten our health care capacity – the very thing we are trying to protect so that our economic rebound can continue and so our students can learn in their classrooms where they deserve to be,” Little said.

Here’s the second reason, and it’s even more concerning: “co-infection.”

“There’s some initial data suggesting that when an individual has a co-infection with influenza and coronavirus, that their illness burden isn’t doubling but actually a multitude more sick,” Birch said. “What we know is that they’re significantly more ill and can significantly lead to more complications and deaths related to that co-infection.”

Because influenza and COVID attack the lower respiratory tract, Birch said, the effects can be exponential.

“I like to use the analogy, it hurts kind of bad when your friend punches you on the shoulder; it hurts a lot more when you already have a bruise or hurt shoulder,” Birch said. “And that’s the same thing when it comes to co-infection of these viruses, that it hurts when you have the flu or hurts when you have the COVID, but it hurts a lot more and exponentially more when you have both.”

It’s preventable: Get a flu shot.

Ideally, you can start getting a flu shot now.

“There is a little bit of concern about getting (a flu shot) too early,” Birch said. “And when I say too early, I mean, before Labor Day, as far as having your antibodies last through the entire flu season. So a general recommendation is any time mid-September and afterwards.”

As long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccinations should continue through the winter, even into January or later, according to the CDC.

Most people get the vaccine in October through December, Birch said. For those most vulnerable, Birch said the earlier the better.

Only about 47% of people in the United States got the flu vaccine last year, CDC director Robert Redfield said in a recent interview with WebMD. This year, the goal is to try to get that percentage up to 65%.

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exceptions.

In Idaho, “We are always intensely interested in getting that number up,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokesperson Niki Forbing-Orr said. “We are very eager to get the message out, especially during COVID, about the importance of getting a flu shot and the importance of protecting yourself against the flu.”

Flu vaccine supply depends on private manufacturers, according to the CDC. For the 2020-21 season, manufacturers have projected they will provide as many as 194 million to 198 million doses of flu vaccine, which is more than the 175 million-dose record set during the 2019-20 flu season, according to the CDC.

The CDC purchased an additional 2 million doses of pediatric flu vaccine and 9.3 million doses of adult flu vaccine in anticipation of greater demand.

Anyone can be affected by flu throughout the year, Birch said. However, flu season tends to run from October through April. In Idaho, peaks have typically hit from December through March. In 2016, Idaho got caught by a late flu season that peaked in March.

When it comes to child flu vaccinations, Idaho is ahead of only Utah (47%), Florida (46%) and Wyoming (43%). Alaska is the only other state with a child flu vaccination rate below 50%. States with the highest rates of child flu vaccinations are Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, at 76%, 74% and 71%, respectively.

This year, the message is simple: Get your flu shot, especially as we fight coronavirus.

“We do not yet have a mass-produced COVID vaccine,” Birch said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and there’s a lot of unknowns about what this winter will bring as it relates to the coronavirus. There’s lots of data leading us to believe that we will be seeing significant increases in coronavirus going into the winter months.”

For a glimpse at what the upcoming flu season might look like, health experts in the United States look to the Southern Hemisphere, which is in their winter months now and going through their flu season.

The good news is that countries in the Southern Hemisphere have had remarkably quiet flu seasons.

It appears to be a beneficial byproduct of the measures they took to reduce COVID.

“For areas that we tend to look at, Australia, New Zealand, that area of the Southern Hemisphere, they’ve been much more successful in reducing the amount of COVID transmission in their communities and in their countries,” Birch said. “And so, with the measures that went into place to reduce COVID transmission during their winter season, it also effectively decreased and impacted their influenza seasons. By following the recommendations for isolation, when you’re sick, by social distancing and masking, and in some cases, the stay-at-home orders in those countries, they were able to have a much less severe influenza and COVID season.”

So along with Gov. Little’s admonition to get a flu shot, he also urged the usual steps to prevent COVID, which will also prevent flu: wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands and regularly wash surfaces.

If we all do that, we can severely limit the potential for a “twindemic” this winter.

Online: Idaho Statesman