ISJ logo

Bannock County Commissioner Terrel “Ned” Tovey blasted the local health department on Thursday with a ferocity that’s never before been seen in Southeast Idaho.

After the Southeastern Idaho Public Health board unanimously decided to elevate Bannock County’s COVID-19 risk level from minimal to moderate, Tovey accused the agency of fear mongering, providing inaccurate coronavirus case numbers and overstepping its authority. He said he wants Bannock County to withhold the more than $500,000 in annual funds it provides to Southeastern Idaho Public Health.

Tovey’s frustrations during the ongoing pandemic are not uncommon in that we’re all frustrated with the contradictory information federal officials and health experts have provided about COVID-19 and many in Idaho feel that the restrictions the virus has created — from business shutdowns to online instruction for our children — are unnecessary and represent clear examples of government overreach.

But Tovey’s frustrations shouldn’t be taken out on Southeastern Idaho Public Health, an agency that’s clearly dedicated to improving the health of everyone in our region, especially people with lower incomes.

It’s pretty evident from perusing Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s website, siphidaho.org, that the agency does a ton of good in our region, including suicide prevention, making sure mothers and their babies have enough food to eat, helping people to stop smoking, inspecting restaurants, preventing the spread of everything from cancer to whooping cough to AIDS and, most importantly nowadays, providing vital assistance to help all of us weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19 turning all of our lives upside down, Southeastern Idaho Public Health focused on a wide variety of important community health issues, but it’s probably true that many of us had never heard of the agency.

That all changed starting in March when COVID-19 arrived in Idaho.

Trust us when we say that no one at Southeastern Idaho Public Health was hoping for a pandemic, is using the coronavirus for some sort of political gain, or is engaging in fear tactics to make us all even more fearful of this deadly virus.

We can only imagine how stressful life has become at Southeastern Idaho Public Health since COVID-19 started rearing its head in our communities. Overnight, this agency has gone from being somewhat anonymous to being under a massive spotlight. Not a day goes by anymore that Southeastern Idaho Public Health is not fielding calls from the media, issuing press releases about how many of us have contracted COVID-19, and posting Facebook Live videos with the latest info on the virus.

Defunding Southeastern Idaho Public Health would be a mistake for several reasons, not the least of which is because we need this agency now more than ever.

We would encourage Tovey and any other government officials who have concerns about Southeastern Idaho Public Health to meet with Maggie Mann, the agency’s director, and work out solutions rather than attacking the agency’s credibility.

In many ways when it comes to COVID-19, Southeastern Idaho Public Health has little authority and Bannock County doesn’t need to take any action at all as a result of its risk level being elevated to moderate.

The move is symbolic and essentially puts the ball in the county’s court as to what happens next.

It’s getting to the point that we all know of someone who has contracted COVID-19 and anyone who believes the virus is fake news does so at the potential detriment of their own health.

COVID-19 has killed about 200,000 Americans, including 14 Southeast Idahoans, and we all need to be taking precautions to avoid contracting it.

Our response to this deadly pandemic shouldn’t be to attack the local health department.

Southeastern Idaho Public Health is doing the best it can under incredibly stressful circumstances.

Tovey, Southeastern Idaho Public Health and the rest of us are all in this together and need to be working together to survive — yes, survive — this pandemic.

This is literally a matter of life or death, and tempers need to be kept in check for all our sakes.