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Panhandle Health District Names New Director

Courtesy of Panhandle Health District

Idaho’s Panhandle Health District has looked to its own ranks for a new leader.

Don Duffy was introduced Friday as the agency’s new director.Duffy has been the district’s public health services administrator for the last seven years. He oversaw several of its divisions, including the epidemiology, home health and Women Infant Children programs and home visits by nurses.  

The Panhandle Health District, like many other public health agencies in U.S., has become much more visible during the Covid pandemic. Duffy prefers to take an optimistic view of that.

“We hear it every day from citizens in north Idaho, supporting the work that we do, whether it’s encouraging folks to wear masks to encouraging people to be vaccinated," he said.

Some public health agencies have sought to require people to wear masks. Duffy says he has a less restrictive approach.

“We believe that we teach people correct principles and let them govern themselves. Sometimes a lot of folks forget about the first part of that couplet. We hope that they’re getting good, quality information about things regarding masks or whether they should be vaccinated. I understand that some people are hesitant to get vaccinated. There have not been longitudinal studies about this vaccine. I’m very comfortable in promoting it myself, but I understand that others might question that," he said.

Duffy says he’s seeing small signs that north Idaho’s Covid situation is improving. He says the percentage of people receiving vaccine shots is slowly increasing. He believes there are several factors responsible for that. He says FDA approval of the vaccines has convinced some to be vaccinated. There’s also the first-hand experience of seeing someone they know struggle with Covid.

“Just since August 1, 36 people have died at Kootenai Health from Covid-19. That’s a big number in a relatively short amount of time. People are seeing those and I believe they’re putting those pieces together, making their own choice to then go and get vaccinated," he said.

He replaces Lora Whelan, who retired in June.