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.
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.
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.