HEART OF ALENE, Idaho – The Candlelight Christian Fellowship congregation gathered around tables in the church sanctuary last week to sip coffee and grapple with theological questions. From the end of the hall came the laughter of dozens of children playing.
With a potluck dinner, no masks and lots of shared hugs, the night felt like a throwback to the pre-pandemic era, with the exception of one notable exception on the stage: Senior Pastor Paul Van Noy, addressed the congregation with the help of supplemental oxygen, channeled into his nostrils from a small reservoir.
About a month ago, Mr Van Noy, 60, was released from a hospital in a wheelchair after a Covid-19 infection brought him to the brink of death. But while this fear has ravaged her lungs and rocked the church, it has done little to alter the growing feeling among many in northern Idaho that the coronavirus cannot be stopped and the efforts to contain it do more harm than good.
“I think we just open up and let it take its course,” said Nancy Hillberg, 68, as church members mingled after the service. “Just let it be done.”
Amid a record spike in coronavirus cases and the final days of the presidential election, President Trump and his administration have expressed growing powerlessness to contain the virus, focusing instead on improving survivability and trying to keep the economy together. While this is a theme welcomed by many supporters of the president, it has proven alarming to health officials, including those at the hospital who treated Mr Van Noy, who meet growing resistance to their calls for unity in the fight against a pandemic that has already claimed nearly 230,000 Americans and threatens to take many more.
In northern Idaho, which faces record cases and hospitalizations, the local health board last month repealed the requirement to wear masks in Kootenai County, where Candlelight Christian Fellowship is located.
“Personally, I don’t care if someone is wearing a mask or not,” board member Walt Kirby said in a public hearing on the matter. “If they want to be stupid enough to walk around and expose themselves and others to this, that’s fine with me.”
“I’m just sitting and watching them grab it and die. I hope I will live through. “
In a later interview, Mr Kirby said he initially supported the mask’s mandate as a strategy to contain the virus and at 90, he wears one whenever he is in public.
But the demand for the mask has drawn immense backlash, he said, in a part of the country where many have moved to escape what they see as an authoritarian government.
Governors across the country, especially Republicans, are following the president’s lead in resisting new restrictions against a virus that has powerfully persisted despite lockdowns in some areas in the spring and summer.
Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota wrote that “there is no way to stop the virus,” while Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota said when it comes to saving lives , “It’s not a job for the government, it’s a job for Everyone.” In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee told residents that “in the end, personal responsibility is the only one. average. ”Governor Mike Dunleavy of Alaska said in an interview that the increase in the number of cases this fall shouldn’t cause people to go into hiding.
“It’s like being told you are going to be hit by a meteorite,” Dunleavy said. “There comes a time when people just say, ‘I have yet to live. I still have to work. I still have to have contact with my family. ”
With the weather cooling and people turning their lives inside, the virus began a fall rampage across the country far surpassing the highs of previous months. The country set a record of more than 98,000 infections in a single day on Friday. Deaths have also started to increase slightly.
Despite the gloomy tendencies, Mr Trump spoke out against the lockdown restrictions and tried to send a message that the country was “turning the corner” – a claim at odds with the country’s top infectious disease specialist, Dr Anthony S. Fauci, who said more caution is needed, not less, and people shouldn’t expect a return to normal for maybe another year.
Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, set the tone last month for many who are ready to throw in the towel on pure containment of the virus, calling for a focus on therapies and vaccines because ” we are not going to control pandemic. “
Hospital and government officials have seen signs of pandemic fatigue, with children’s sports leagues looking to resume their activities, friends celebrating birthdays and families planning to get together again – possibly for the holidays in come. Gallup has been tracking Americans’ social distancing habits and has seen a drop in the number of people practicing social distancing, from 92% in April to 72% in September.
In Idaho, where many residents cherish autonomy, resistance to coronavirus warrants emerged early in the pandemic. In recent weeks, hot spots have developed across the state, which is now averaging about 900 new cases per day, more than triple the number seen just six weeks ago.
In the eastern part of the state, the Rexburg metropolitan area recorded the most new cases per capita in the country. In the north, Kootenai Health Hospital has warned the facility could exceed capacity and be forced to send patients to Seattle or Portland, Oregon – two areas where restrictions remain in place and the virus is no longer under control .
In Boise, an outbreak at Idaho State Veterans Home has resulted in 26 active cases and two recent deaths among residents, as well as 16 employees who have tested positive.
Gov. Brad Little reinstated restrictions on large gatherings, but faced the return of some fellow Republicans and resisted a mask mandate. Last week, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin joined a group of lawmakers to release a video calling for an end to all state and local emergency ordinances, vowing to ignore them in the future. In the video, Ms McGeachin put a gun on a Bible.
“Whether or not a pandemic may occur does not change the meaning or intent of the state constitution in preserving our inalienable rights,” the political leaders said in the video and letter. support.
In Twin Falls, where an increase in the number of coronavirus patients forced Magic Valley Medical Center in St. Luke to redirect pediatric patients elsewhere and cancel elective surgeries, Dr Adam Robison said he wanted efforts to control the virus are not seen through the prism of politics. .
“We’re about to run out of room,” he said. “I’m getting extremely nervous right now, to be very frank.
Mr Van Noy, the pastor of Coeur d’Alene who spent 18 days in an intensive care unit, had expressed skepticism about masks before he fell ill, did not need them at church and vowed to defy any order to cancel in-person services. . But he said that although his illness led to doctors at one point giving him a 20% chance of survival, he saw others in the congregation who had only minor infections. While he wanted people to be careful to avoid spreading the virus, he said, he remained skeptical of the government‘s efforts to contain it.
“I’m not convinced that all of our efforts have had a great impact on the spread or absence of it,” Van Noy said. “I think we’ve done a lot of harm to our economy, to the psyche of the characters. I mean, we see depression. We see all kinds of problems that develop because people feel hopeless.
When he went to vote recently, Mr. Van Noy wore a pro-Trump mask at the voting site. When he arrived, he said, a polling officer told him he couldn’t wear the mask because it was an inappropriate election.
Mr. Van Noy took off the mask and went inside to vote without one.