Get your safe-viewing goggles ready! On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will be occurring across the United States. Idaho has been identified as one of the prime viewing spots because of the likely chance skies will be clear and viewing locations unobstructed by buildings and light pollution.
While the center line of the “path of totality” runs on a slight curve from about Weiser past Stanley through Rexburg, the path of the shadow across Idaho is miles wider where 100 percent obstruction will occur.
Even if you are not in the path of totality and are in places like Boise, which is 15 miles outside the path’s southern limit, you will still have an obscurity of about 99.5 percent. Because of this, Idaho communities are preparing for the onslaught of out-of-state visitors who are coming from across the nation and from around the world.
While it might not seem like a big deal to have hundreds of thousands of people descend into a state, there are several issues being addressed. Local and state public health officials — in collaboration with emergency management, law enforcement, local counties and cities, local businesses, health care agencies and others — are considering all of the possibilities of what could happen and anticipating the needs of Idaho residents and visitors.
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As I become more engaged in planning and conversations about the 2017 eclipse, I have learned about the many preparations that are occurring to ensure communities and spectators are safe and that everyone has a good time. Some of those preparations are particularly interesting, and I thought I would share:
▪ Eye protection is important and not something to be taken lightly. Per NASA, it is never safe to look directly at the sun’s rays, even if the sun is partially obscured. If you are looking directly into the sun, wear eclipse-viewing glasses at all times or use an alternate indirect method of viewing. Unfiltered rays from the sun can cause permanent eye damage and even blindness.
▪ August is wildfire season in Idaho. Chances are good that the air will be smoky, and more fires might be started from people driving their vehicles into areas with dry grass or building a campfire in an improper location. Visitors coming from out of the area might not be used to the combination of altitude and poor air quality caused by wildfire smoke, which could trigger respiratory issues.
▪ Lodging in many communities is already booked. Many people coming to Idaho will camp because of a shortage of motel accommodations and to get a better view of the eclipse. People may be tempted to camp in nondesignated spots. Campers in both designated and ad hoc locations need to consider their food safety, water safety, personal hygiene needs, sewage and trash disposal. They also need to bring proper clothing to dress for the changes in temperatures that can occur in both desert and mountain environments. Campers in nondesignated areas should be respectful of trespassing on private lands.
▪ Critters are out and about in the summertime and include bats, snakes, mosquitoes, ticks, rodents and others. Bats should be left alone, and if you do have an encounter with a bat, seek a medical provider for consultation and possible treatment. (Read a previous column about the danger of bats here.) Wear EPA-approved insect repellent and long-sleeve shirts and pants to keep mosquitoes and ticks away from your skin. Both potentially carry illnesses such as West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Relapsing Fever. Check for ticks daily. Know your snakes. If you encounter a rattlesnake, leave it alone. If you are bitten, seek medical treatment immediately. Hospitals across the state are stocking up on anti-venom.
▪ Communities are preparing to have extra supplies of gasoline and propane for those eclipse-watchers who are camping and driving long distances. Hospitals and local businesses are ensuring they are prepared for the need for possible backup generators and overflow.
▪ Consideration should be made for traffic congestion, RVs being pulled along curvy mountain roads, distracted and aggressive driving, long-distance driving in hot conditions, and tired drivers, as well as the potential lack of fuel and rest areas available while trying to reach destinations. Nearly 10 different highways will be affected along the path of totality, including U.S. Interstate 15. Expect delays and hot conditions. Know your routes. Wear your seat belts, pack an emergency kit, and have plenty of food and water available in the car.
While you are thinking about what you need to do to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime event, public health and our health care partners are preparing to ensure that if you do have a medical emergency, we are ready to support you. The following are some of our preparatory actions:
▪ EMS agencies across the state are planning to stage aeromedical units, ambulances, and other motorized vehicles, such as ATVs and electric carts, in critical areas that are medically underserved. This will allow EMS to reach people in congested areas more quickly.
▪ Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will staff first-aid and hydration stations where community events are planned.
▪ Local public health agencies will stage their mass-care trailers to support communities that might have shortages in health care.
▪ Hospitals and other health care providers are working on staffing plans to ensure adequate numbers of staff, training for staff for potentially non-English speaking visitors, as well as backup plans for communications and power.
▪ Public health and emergency management are meeting regularly to discuss triggers for setting up local and state emergency operations centers to help communities get resources and support they need.
I am very excited to be able to witness the 2017 solar eclipse, and I am sure you are as well. While the state and communities across the state are preparing for the festivities and visitors to our great state, I encourage you to do your planning and research where you are going. Plan your route, account for your personal and travel needs, consider what you will be doing with your pets and ensure their safety, and be conscientious about the land on which you will watch the eclipse and treat it with respect.
Idaho is a great and wonderful state, and we are fortunate to have such a prime viewing location. If we all prepare and consider the possibilities, we can keep our state healthy, safe and looking great after it’s all over.
Elke Shaw-Tulloch, master of health sciences, is the state health officer and Division of Public Health administrator with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Find out more about Department of Health and Welfare services at www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.
Learn more about the eclipse
▪ Visit Idaho eclipse information: visitidaho.org/eclipse.
▪ Boise State Department of Physics: physics.boisestate.edu/eclipse.
▪ The Idaho Department of Commerce has information on how communities should be planning for the eclipse, along with a number of eclipse facts at commerce.idaho.gov/eclipse.