The Ada County Commissioners will be deciding on the next physician to sit on the board for Central District Health on Tuesday.
On Monday, the commissioners held 30-minute interviews with the three candidates for the seat to help them decide on the high-profile appointment. They talked vaccines, COVID-19 and personal liberties with infectious disease physician Dr. Sky Blue, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stanley Moss, and pathologist Dr. Ryan Cole prior to their final selection Tuesday.
The seat is open after Republican Commissioners Ryan Davidson and Rod Beck opted not to renew Dr. Ted Epperley for another five-year term earlier this summer, according to the Idaho Capital Sun. Right-wing protestors targeted his home in 2020 while the board considered COVID-19 health measures, like mask mandates.
The race to replace him garnered a flood of input, with a variety of groups organizing campaigns to push letters supporting favored candidates to the inboxes of county commissioners, according to reporting from the Idaho Capital Sun.
The commissioners did not make a decision Monday. Once they make their pick, a majority of the county commissioners in Ada, Boise, Elmore, and Valley counties must vote to approve the nominee.
Here is a recap of each of the interviews.
Dr. Sky Blue
Blue treats infectious diseases at independent practice Sawtooth Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases and he also works as the medical director at the Family Medicine Health Center’s Wellness Center providing care to patients with HIV and Aids. He was nominated to fill former Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo’s seat on Central District Health at the beginning of 2021, but the commissioners selected former Congressman Raul Labrador over him.
In the interview, Commissioner Kendra Kenyon asked Blue about “the media” and other groups painting Blue as a political candidate instead of a medical one. He told the commissioners the politicization of the pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges, instead of using data to guide decision-making.
“I think that’s what individuals look at when they ask for advice from me or my group,” he said. “It is not a position where we say ‘this is where it’s at.’ We’re constantly looking at how we can hone that and give the best advice to our patients and hospitals that ask us for advice in our community.”
Davidson asked Blue about his views on personal liberties and COVID-19 health measures, which was a major cornerstone of Davidson’s 2020 campaign. Blue told the board he didn’t have any definite answers on what he would recommend because each situation requires a different response, but did call jailing someone for not following health orders “an extreme measure” requiring an “extreme circumstance.”
“Somewhere in there there’s a balance and a tipping point between regulations versus personal freedoms,” he said. “I don’t have the answers to that. But when we’re talking about it, what I say is ‘what does the data tell us and what are we trying to accomplish?’.”
Blue also praised the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and called them a tactic that works “very, very well” and Central District Health should use them to combat the pandemic.
Dr. Ryan Cole
Cole is a pathologist and current owner of Cole Diagnostics in Garden City. In the past year and a half, he has gained popularity with right-wing Republicans for some of his criticisms of public health orders and vaccines for COVID-19. The vast majority of emails sent into the commissioners were in support of his appointment, according to the Capital Sun.
He repeatedly told the commissioners during his interview that he believes COVID-19 is a real, deadly virus, but doctors treating the disease should focus more on overall wellness to keep people from dying of it. Cole also said by focusing on obesity, heart disease and other health conditions in the community Central District Health can “pandemic proof” the region for the future.
“Part of what we teach is wellness and yes it’s not just vitamin D, it’s not just the tip of the fork and yes it is in our sleep pattern and community gathering and mental wellness,” he told the commissioners. “There are so many factors that play into that and that’s a prime opportunity for a CDH board is to teach and educate not just for the pandemic but into the future as well.”
None of the three commissioners directly asked Cole about his stance on COVID-19 vaccines or his social media posts casting doubt on mainstream treatments. He told the commissioners he is in favor of “early treatment” option for COVID, like a pill, instead of the shots as the answer.
Even with the Delta variant, the vast majority of patients in Idaho’s hospitals or who have died from the virus in recent months have been unvaccinated, according to Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
“We need to societally pivot right now,” he said. “We’re giving a vaccine right now for something that was four variants ago, it’s like saying to your hospital employees ‘alright flu season is coming let’s use the leftovers from four years ago in the freezer.’ That’s the same efficacy we’re seeing of giving a Wuhan vaccine to a delta variant.”
The Centers for Disease Control says the current vaccines are “highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, including against the Delta variant.”
Dr. Stanley Moss
Moss is a retired orthopedic surgeon who practiced with Saint Alphonsus for over twenty years. Although he is not an infectious disease specialist, he touted his experience in the Treasure Valley medical community and his well-rounded background to bring a “balanced scientific, medical education expertise” to the Central District Health board in order to combat misinformation about the pandemic.
He said supporting American ideals of personal liberties and freedom are important to him if he were to be selected for the seat, but CDH also has a responsibility to end the pandemic. Moss said measures like masks and social distancing cannot end the pandemic, only herd immunity can.
“We have a safe and effective vaccine and if people were educated enough that they could make the individual free choice and they chose to because they knew it was the right thing that would end the pandemic,” he said. “The other choice is to get immunity by suffering the disease and then you’re immune for the next round going forward. That idea might work really well if you’re a young, healthy adult, or if you’re a youth, but even those people have the risk of a severe illness and even death. As you add in risk factors like age, obesity or asthma those risks get much higher.”
Moss listed encouraging vaccination as his number one priority if he were appointed, but he reiterated that vaccinations should not be required. When pressed by Davidson if he believed the government had “botched” messaging around the vaccine, Moss said it is the political environment, not the government or medical questions that have slowed vaccination rates.
“I think people who are choosing not to get vaccinated have serious, real concerns,” he said. “Most of those concerns are based on misinformation and if they had access to the correct, truthful information they would respond like the physicians of our country have and we’d have much higher vaccination rates.”