By Lyndsie Kiebert
Governor Brad Little gave the state the green light June 11 to enter Stage 4 of the Idaho Rebounds economic reopening plan. Idaho just barely qualified to enter the fourth and final stage — which officially kicked off June 13 — as the statewide case count has been steadily rising in recent weeks.
“I want to stress something very important — we almost did not make it to Stage 4 this week,” Little said at the June 11 press conference. “Despite our incredible progress, there are still some in Idaho who are not practicing measures to keep themselves and others safe. Even if contracting COVID-19 is low on your personal concerns, I urge you to practice safe measures to protect others.”
Little said that community spread — transmission of the virus not tied to travel out of the area — has been confirmed in more than half of Idaho counties.
“This isn’t just a Boise and Treasure Valley issue,” he said. “Across the country, we’re seeing the virus move from cities into rural areas where health care access is limited.”
The Idaho Statesman reports that Idaho’s daily coronavirus caseload increased by more than 50% between Stage 2 and Stage 3 of the Idaho Rebounds plan, yet the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported a downward trend in all COVID-19 criteria leading up to Stage 4. This is due to the manner in which the department is tracking data. When the Idaho Rebounds plan was first released, IDHW said it would use a 14-day moving average to track data that would determine Idaho’s eligibility to move into upcoming stages. Instead, the department has been using day-to-day case counts over a set 14-day period and applying a trend line to the graphed data. This is for the sake of simplicity, according to IDHW officials.
“The moving average is no longer being used because it was too complicated for many people trying to keep track, based on feedback we received,” IDHW spokesperson Niki Forbing-Orr told the Statesman. “We really wanted it to be something the public can understand, so public health staff are using case counts for that metric.”
Idaho reported 92 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 on June 17, bringing the statewide total to 3,632 and 88 virus-related deaths to date.
Panhandle Health District reported three new cases of coronavirus in Bonner County on June 17, bringing the county’s total to 10 cases — five of which are active. PHD confirmed June 15 the first COVID-19 related death in the five northern counties: a man in his 70s from Kootenai County.
“This situation can be stressful and frightening and we realize all of you want to protect yourselves and your loved ones,” PHD officials wrote in a Facebook post June 17. “If you have questions, please ask and we will do our best to provide answers. We are in this together.”
Those with questions or who believe they may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms are encouraged to call PHD at 1-877-415-5225.
Gatherings of any size are allowed in Stage 4, and nightclubs and large venues — such as sports arenas — may now open with physical distancing measures in place. Employers can resume regular staffing, but telework is encouraged whenever possible. Also during Stage 4, visits to senior living facilities and other congregate facilities, like jails, can resume with strict rules in place to mitigate transmission.
Even as all businesses open and Idaho appears to return to a sort of pre-coronavirus normalcy, the Idaho Rebounds plan recommends certain preventative measures remain in place for the foreseeable future. Idahoans are still asked to practice social distancing of at least six feet from people who live outside their household, and the governor’s office suggests citizens “wear protective face coverings in public, to the extent possible.” Frequent surface sanitation, good hygiene and staying home when sick are other recommendations that will remain in place moving forward.
As Idaho enters the final stage of the Idaho Rebounds plan and COVID-19 cases continue to pile up around the state, many are asking what’s next. Marissa Morrison, the governor’s press secretary, told the Sandpoint Reader that Little will “continue to hold regular press conferences to update Idahoans on the status of COVID-19 in Idaho following the end date of Stage 4 of Idaho Rebounds.” The end date for Stage 4 is currently Friday, June 26, but is subject to change based on statewide coronavirus criteria.
In the event of a major spike in infection rates moving forward, Morrison said another round of “Stay Healthy” guidelines or a new stay-at-home order won’t come from the governor’s office. She said Little has stated that “if restrictions need to be placed due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the future, they will be considered on a local level instead of statewide as we saw in March.”
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