BOISE, Idaho (KLIX)-A group of Idaho health care providers say they want a statewide mandate for people to wear masks in public to battle the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

During a joint press conference hosted online, leaders of St. Luke's Health System, Saint Alphonsus Health System, Primary Health Medical Group, West Valley Medical Center, and Saltzer Health called on Idahoans to wear masks in public, keep social distancing, and wash their hands. The group of providers mainly serve the Treasure, Wood River and Magic valley areas of the state. St. Luke's Health CEO Chris Roth said the intention of the joint conference was to ask citizens to wear face coverings and call their elected leadership and ask them to mandate it.

Several top health professionals said they are alarmed by the recent rise in positive COVID-19 cases and an increase in hospitalizations at their respective facilities. Dr. Jim Souza MD, St. Luke’s Chief Medical Officer, said by the end of the month, if trends continue, they could see 150 new COVID-19 admissions to their hospital system. He said that new studies have shown that wearing masks work against the virus. Dr. David Peterman CEO of Primary Care Physicians said they've treated more than 20,000 COVID-19 patients, "We need to take action now." Betsy Hunsicker, CEO of West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell said a crisis can be avoided by developing a "culture of masking" and to keep the state's economy going.

Roth said they are not panicking yet and they are not at crisis levels, but said August would be too late for action. He also noted that it all can be done without shutting businesses down. Dr. Souza said the shutdown was a blunt forced tool that was effecting in bringing COVID-19 cases down. However, a shutdown is not something the group wants to see happen again.

All of the health systems represented said they've had a number of their health care workers infected with COVID-19, most from community spread and not while on the job. St. Luke's Health announced Monday a nurse practitioner had died from complications to the virus. According to St. Luke's, during the height of the outbreak in the Wood River Valley the hospital there had to be shut-down because of the number of health care working that became infected was too great.

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