Idaho restrictions to remain as coronavirus infections rise

Idaho Gov. Brad Little speaks at a news conference Thursday, July 23, 2020 at Central District Health in Boise, Idaho. He said there are too many coronavirus cases and the state will remain in the fourth and final stage of his reopening plan for at least another two weeks. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. Brad Little said Thursday that there are too many coronavirus infections, and Idaho will remain in the fourth and final stage of his plan to reopen during the pandemic for at least another two weeks.

The Republican governor also reemphasized his plan for state-local collaborations in dealing with the pandemic, allowing local leaders to determine restrictions as the state deals with a surge of infections. That means the state’s seven health districts and local officials will continue evaluating conditions in their areas and decide on restrictions with Little’s oversight.

“We’re all in in trying to provide the health districts with all the resources, all the statistics, all the information they need to make the right decision, and encourage them to do that,” Little said, noting the state has made $94 million in federal coronavirus rescue money available to local governments.
He said the localized approach is best as the infection rates vary widely in the state, with some more rural areas reporting no confirmed cases. Some cities and counties where infections are high require face coverings.
Little didn’t rule out at some point issuing a statewide face-covering mandate if infections rise to the point where the state’s health care system is overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Little has been an early advocate of face coverings in stopping the virus from spreading, publicly wearing one made by women at the church he attends not long after the pandemic hit Idaho. He more recently has been wearing commercially made masks.

On Thursday, he again linked mask wearing as a virus-stopper to pride in Idaho and even patriotism, and as a way to keep businesses open and allow kids to return to school this fall.

Little said it wasn’t clear if schools in various parts of the state could fully reopen, but “we want the default for kids to be in school.”

He also invoked President Donald Trump’s recent support of masks to bolster mask-wearing in heavily red-state Idaho, though the president’s change is viewed as partly due to his slipping in the polls against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, a face-covering advocate.

Still, some local elected officials in Idaho and even health district officials have publicly said the pandemic is a hoax, and that face coverings are unhealthy. Little said he recognized there is resistance to face coverings, but “the evidence of the efficacy of face masks is just way higher than it was before.”

Idaho has been stalled in stage 4 for more than a month. Little lifted his March stay-at-home order in early May, and the state moved through the first three stages or reopening at two-week intervals as the state appeared to have a good handle on preventing the virus from spreading.

But bars opened in stage 3, followed by a spike in infections blamed mainly on bar customers in heavily populated Ada County, which includes Boise, not wearing face coverings or social distancing. Bars have since been shut down.

Infections have continued to spread in the area, and Johns Hopkins University says that through Wednesday, Idaho had 16,322 cases and 135 deaths.

Idaho failed to clear stage 4 due to falling short on various metrics, including the increased number of visits to hospital emergency rooms from people with COVID-19 symptoms.

“Which is one of our showstoppers,” state epidemiologist Christine Hahn said.

The state also failed on the percent of positives tests over a 14-day period. It needs to be below 5%, but Idaho is at 13.6%, state officials said. The positivity rate is a measure of how widespread the disease is in the community.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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