Central District Health Republicans want messaging control

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues public health guidance, it’s not unusual for Idaho’s Central District Health to release that information through social media accounts and press releases.

Now some members of the Central District Health Board are questioning the practice.

Raúl Labrador, a former Republican congressman, and Idaho House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, a Republican from Elmore County, said Friday they want to implement a policy that would dictate the content type district – which includes Ada, Elmore, Valley and Boise Counties – communicates with the public and posts on social media.

Earlier this month, the Public Health District’s Facebook page supported CDC guidelines that encouraged children to wear masks in schools to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and released the CDC’s information. .

“My problem is a political problem,” Labrador told the Idaho statesman. “Who should set Central District Health policy? And I think it’s clear that it should be the board.

Blanksma also criticized the decision to “endorse” a statement by Boise Mayor Lauren McLean, a Democrat who supported the guidelines.

Labrador, who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Idaho in 2018, said the CDC made decisions “more politicized than science-based.” Quoting a Wall Street Journal Editorial by two doctors, he said masks can do more harm than good to children, and that there is “absolutely no scientific support” for CDC guidelines on mask wearing in children and vaccinees .

the The CDC, the national public health agency, provides information on science behind masking recommendations to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Blanksma said the board should determine an overarching policy that would address situations beyond COVID-19. Board members agreed to discuss a potential policy at their October meeting.

Elt Hasbrouck, Valley County Commissioner and board member, pushed back against Labrador and Blanksma’s idea. He said he didn’t want to be able to decide what information the health district should promote. He said he was not a doctor and did not feel comfortable making such decisions, and that a new policy could lead the district to spread misinformation.

“If we start going against what the CDC is recommending somewhere along the line, we’re going to make a big mistake and we’re going to lose our credibility,” Hasbrouck said. “That’s my concern.”

Central District Health spokeswoman Christine Myron said in a statement that health district officials would consider evaluating practices around social media and putting in place some policy options for the council to discuss on May 15. october.

“Our goal at Central District Health is to use social media as a way to keep our communities informed about issues of public health importance,” Myron said Friday.

What the Central District Health social media posts said

On July 27, the CDC released updated guidelines that encouraged mask-wearing indoors, regardless of vaccination status, if unable to socially distance. This was a response to the more transmissible delta variant of the virus.

That same day, Boise officials announced they would require face coverings inside city facilities. Central District Health issued a press release about 20 minutes after Boise announced his term.

The health district, on social media and through a press release, said it “supports” updated CDC guidelines on wearing masks indoors when there are levels high rates of community transmission, regardless of vaccination status. He also recommended masks for all staff, visitors and K-12 students. It linked to additional county-specific data on the CDC’s website.

“Wearing a mask, along with physical distancing and choosing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, continues to be our best defense in this pandemic,” the press release read. “Getting vaccinated prevents serious illness, hospitalizations and death while helping to reduce the spread of the virus in the community. With the delta variant present in Idaho counties, choosing to get vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and those around you.

The health district also shared Facebook posts and tweets from Idaho elected officials, including McLean and Republican Gov. Brad Little. One of Little’s tweets encouraged the public to get vaccinated before the school year. In another instance, CDH shared McLean’s July 1 Facebook post that discouraged fireworks at home.

Labrador said Friday that encouraging masks for vaccinated people made vaccinations seem like they weren’t working, and he said it ultimately did a disservice to efforts to vaccinate more of the population.

“I don’t want to be too prescriptive,” Labrador said, but added that council members should have a say in what kind of information the district promotes.

The CDC and medical professionals have stressed that the mask guidelines apply to everyone because vaccinated individuals can carry and transmit the delta varianteven if they don’t get sick themselves.

Russ Duke, director of health for the central district, said public health advisories are not just being used for COVID-19, but for a number of issues, such as sexually transmitted infections, encouraging people to wear bicycle helmets or smoking prevention. And he said the board doesn’t meet often enough to decide what information the district can release on social media, especially during a public health emergency.

“Hospitals are in trouble right now,” Duke said. “We can’t wait until October 15 to make this decision,” referring to the next board meeting.

This story was originally published August 20, 2021 12:50 p.m.

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Hayat Norimine covers state politics for The Statesman. She has covered government for The Dallas Morning News and in Washington State, is a graduate of the University of Washington and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern.

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