(Almost) open for business

As Idaho rolls out its plan for reopening the economy, Sandpoint business owners prepare to make the required adjustments

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Governor Brad Little will hold a press conference Thursday, April 30 at 11 a.m. Mountain Time to share protocol for Stage 1 of his Idaho Rebounds plan — a four-step process meant to give businesses a timeline for opening between now and late June, depending on Idaho’s success in “flattening the curve” of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Though businesses are due to open if the state meets certain criteria, Idahoans will likely be facing a new normal for an unforeseen amount of time. Restaurants, bars, gyms, salons and large venues won’t be saying goodbye to distancing and sanitary protocol as soon as they reopen their doors. According to the Idaho Rebounds guidelines, the effect of COVID-19 on social spaces — including Sandpoint businesses — is likely to persist even as the state attempts to find economic footing in the wake of the pandemic.

The criteria

The Idaho Rebounds plan draws from three categories of statistical criteria to determine the ability of the state to move from one stage to the next: syndromic, epidemiologic and health care. These data — which measure emergency room visits for COVID-like illness; positive coronavirus tests; the ability to treat patients without crisis standards of care; available ventilators, ICU beds and personal protective equipment; and testing availability for health care workers — are measured by the state’s disease tracking systems. 

All criteria are measured over a 14-day period. For example, to pass the epidemiologic criteria, Idaho must see a “downward trend [in documented COVID-19 cases] over [the] most recent reported 14-day period, or less than 20 patients per day on average reported statewide over the same 14-day period.”

All criteria must be met before moving onto the next stage of the Idaho Rebounds plan, meaning dates are subject to change.

Stage 1: May 1-15

The first official stage in the Idaho Rebounds plan marks the end of the governor’s stay-at-home order, which went into effect March 25. However, the state is still urging vulnerable people — particularly those with pre-existing conditions — to continue practicing self-quarantine measures until Stage 3. Gatherings are still discouraged in Stage 1, as well as non-essential travel. Out-of-state visitors should still self-quarantine for two weeks upon entering Idaho during Stage 1.

Employers are encouraged to continue implementing telework during Stage 1, if possible, but are allowed to return their employees to work in phases if distancing and sanitation guidelines — as provided by local health districts — can be met and maintained.

A Stage 1 business protocol checklist from the Panhandle Health District makes a number of suggestions, including staggering work hours to limit crowding, displaying signage to remind patrons to socially distance and performing a “health check” on employees prior to their shift.

During Stage 1, churches and day cares may reopen and some youth activities may resume. The PHD released specific safety guidelines for these practices on April 29 (find them at panhandlehealthdistrict.org/covid-19).

Restaurant dining spaces, salons and indoor gyms remain closed, but the Idaho Rebounds guidelines encourage those businesses to “develop plans for reopening and ability to meet business protocols in order to open in Stage 2.”

Also during Stage 1, visits to senior living facilities and other sites, such as jails, where people gather remain prohibited. Bars, clubs and large venues — like movie theaters — remain closed with no guidelines to plan for opening. 

Stage 2: May 16-29

During the second stage of the Idaho Rebounds plan, gatherings of fewer than 10 people are no longer discouraged, as long as “appropriate physical distancing” is in play.

Visits to senior living facilities are still not allowed in Stage 2, and bars, clubs and large venues remain closed. Salons and indoor gyms “can open if [they have the] ability to meet business protocols.” Restaurant dining rooms “can open once their plans have been submitted for approval by local public health districts.”

MickDuff’s Brewing Company co-owner Duffy Mahoney, whose business operates a brewpub on First Avenue and its Beer Hall on Cedar Street, said he is waiting for specific directions from PHD on how to submit such a plan. However, he said he imagines MickDuff’s will need to implement six-foot spaces between tables, strict sanitizing and other practices the restaurant already had in place before dining rooms were required to close in March.

Unlike restaurants, salons are not required to present a plan to their local health districts to open during Stage 2. Michelle Ostrom said her Sandpoint salon and tanning business, Botanica, has a number of safety protocols in the works. She said clients will wait outside until the time of their appointment, use of a sanitation station will be required upon entrance to the salon, clients and employees will wear masks, and all services will be performed in separate rooms.

A sign hanging at Bluebird Bakery in Sandpoint. Photo by Ben Olson.

“We’d rather be more cautious than not at this point — for the time being — until we can normalize again,” Ostrom said.

Botanica is tentatively set to open its doors June 1 — two weeks after the state plans to start letting salons reopen. Ostrom said that is partially because the Idaho Rebounds dates are subject to change, and she doesn’t want to be caught off guard. Also, she wants to see how the health district-mandated protocols pan out for other salons across the state.

“It makes it hard for someone to do their job because you can’t be six feet away from [the client],” she said. “Part of the reason we are waiting [is because] we’d like to see how this all comes through.”

Stage 3: May 30-June 12

By Stage 3, gatherings of 10-50 people are allowed and vulnerable Idahoans “can resume public interactions, but should practice physical distancing” by avoiding places where distancing is not possible.

Non-essential travel can resume to places that allow it and do not have active COVID-19 transmission, while out-of-state visitors to Idaho will no longer need to self-quarantine.

Visits to senior living facilities continue to be prohibited in this stage, and bars, clubs and large venues continue to be closed, though they may “develop plans” for opening in Stage 4.

Stage 4: June 13-26

At the final stage in the Idaho Rebounds plan, gatherings of 50 or more people — with appropriate distancing — are allowed. Employers are able to resume unrestricted staffing and telework is no longer considered necessary. 

Visits to senior living facilities can resume, and large venues may reopen as long as physical distancing criteria is met.

Among the last to open will be bars and nightclubs, who may resume operations during Stage 4 “with diminished standing-room occupancy, where applicable and appropriate,” according to the Idaho Rebounds guidelines.

Mel Dick, owner of the 219 Lounge, said he plans to reopen his business June 13 with the necessary modifications. He said the number of people allowed into the bar at one time will be limited, as well as the number of tables and bar stools available indoors and on the patio. Places will be marked as designated seating areas to discourage patrons from moving tables and chairs. Dick said the exact number of patrons allowed into the 219 will be determined before the bar reopens.

“I would anticipate our capacity will be 50% or less than normal,” Dick said.

Due to the social distancing guidelines and the challenges they pose for traditional dance bands, Dick said entertainment at the 219 will transition to more solo or duo music acts and karaoke. He said strict sanitation practices will be in place, employees will wear protective equipment, hand sanitizer will be offered at each table and all employees will have their temperature checked before starting work. Anyone showing signs of sickness will not be allowed to work, he said.

In following the Idaho Rebounds guidelines, the 219 Lounge — along with many other Sandpoint businesses — will look different than they were before the onset of the pandemic. Still, Dick is focusing on the positive aspects of how the bar’s character will change.

“I anticipate the atmosphere at the bar will be more laid back,” he said, “with our patrons enjoying music in more of a ‘mini-concert’ environment while they enjoy a great cocktail, a great selection of craft and other beers, or a great glass of wine.”

Watch the Governor Brad Little’s Stage 1 press conference on Thursday, April 30 at 11 a.m. (Mountain Time) on Idaho Public Television or at the governor’s Facebook page.

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