Idaho governor OKs additional lifting of COVID-19 rules

Idaho Gov. Brad Little looks at his wife Teresa in the balcony as he delivers his State of the State address inside the house chambers at the state Capitol building, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. Brad Little said Thursday that Idaho can move to the third of his four-stage plan to return to regular activity as it seeks to recover from the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican governor said restrictions will be lifted Saturday that will allow bars to reopen and gatherings of up to 50 people as long as precautions are taken. Little also moved up the opening of movie theaters two weeks to Saturday.

Little said the moving to stage 3 and opening movie theaters ahead of schedule is due to the good job people have done in wearing masks and taking other actions to prevent the spread of he virus.

“I am very proud of the people of Idaho,” he said. “But our battle with COVID-19 is far from over.”

One of the precautions that remains is that businesses if possible should still have employees work remotely. Also, visits to senior living facilities are still prohibited to protect workers and vulnerable residents. The wearing of face coverings should continue when people go out in public.

Little’s plan for moving through the four stages by the end of June is based on declining infections and testing. The readiness of the health care system is another factor, including available ventilators and beds in intensive care units.

We don’t want the sickest to not get good healthcare,” said state epidemiologist Christine Hahn.

Idaho has 2,731 confirmed cases of the virus and 82 deaths, according to a tally Thursday by Johns Hopkins University. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Stage 3 requires out-of-state visitors from virus hot spots to quarantine for 14 days in an effort to protect the state’s tourism and hospitality industry.

Little said he’s confident that his plan is the best way for people to feel safe going back to work and for consumers to feel safe going back into the marketplace.

We cannot rebound if a huge segment for our population is afraid to engage in the economy again,” he said, noting some 500,000 residents face increased risks if they were to contract the virus.

A surge in new infections could require reinstating restrictions because of the potential for the health care system to be overwhelmed.

If all goes well, stage 4 will begin on June 13, with gatherings of more than 50 people allowed. But even in stage 4, precautions are included that limit occupancy in bars and require social distancing in theaters and other large venues.

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