Jeremy Smith and his wife Sheena are on a four-wheeler, leading me up a dirt road on the 20 acres of mostly undeveloped land they live on near Sagle, in the Idaho panhandle. We stop near a big grove of trees and get out. It’s beautiful.
“We’ve got some Douglas fir. This is a grand pine. This is a maple,” Smith says as he walks along a private trail.
Smith and his extended family have been hunkering down here since the pandemic began. They are a minority in this very conservative part of Idaho. They take COVID-19 seriously and wear masks. And unlike 65% of the people in Bonner County, they’re fully vaccinated.
“We’ve done everything we possibly could to stay healthy,” Smith says.
Which is why they are so frustrated about the situation in North Idaho. Earlier this week, state public health officials activated crisis standards of care for at least 10 hospitals across ten Northern Idaho counties because of an unprecedented surge of hospitalizations due to COVID-19.
This means health care facilities are overwhelmed and are now rationing care for everyone, regardless of their diagnosis.
“If we get hurt and go in now, our health care is almost certain to be compromised,” Smith says. “It’s really frustrating.”
Hospitals are cancelling most surgeries, warning of long wait times, and urging people to avoid risky activities that could land them in the emergency room because, bottom line, there might not be a bed available.
Smith says his elderly, handicapped father has had to put off back surgery.
“He’s going to be in pain until Christmas because of other people’s choices, not because of anything we’ve done wrong,” he says.
Smith is angry, but understands what’s going on. Many people in this part of Idaho have long been skeptical of authority, and any kind of government information. He’s not surprised it has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation.
“This is a place that is very attractive to people who have an independent, self-sufficient mindset,” he says. “The idea that if anything comes along, you can just take care of it. [see the ful article]