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Boise studies how COVID-19 restrictions could lift: Meet the faucet

The City of Boise started studying how it might lift restrictions and take steps back to normalcy. While no timeline is in place and any efforts to lift restrictions in Boise will be based on COVID-19 tracking and healthcare resource demand, the plans give a preliminary glimpse of what could happen in the city in months to come.

City of Boise’s enterprise data strategist Kyle Patterson laid out the thinking during this week’s city council meeting.

Prepare for a new phrase in the lexicon: opening the faucet.

[Google data shows Idahoans aren’t moving around as much]

The faucet: slow and measured

Patterson presented information from former CDC Director Tom Frieden. He puts forth an idea of a methodical return to regular life, using a water faucet as a metaphor.

“We might slowly open the faucet by lifting some restrictions, restarting some city services and then wait to see what happens,” Patterson said.

Watching what happens includes monitoring newly-reported COVID-19 cases and projections. It also includes looking at the availability of local healthcare resources.

After that first twist of the metaphorical handle, leaders would wait — and watch.

“If we see an outbreak, we might close that faucet. If we don’t, we might open that faucet even more and see what happens,” Patterson said.

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean told BoiseDev she believes that a careful approach is the right approach.

“I believe the community recognizes we are having an impact with these measures, and that we cannot just undo them immediately,” she said. “Ultimately it’s our goal to get our city back to work when we are healthy.”

[Crush the Curve: Do tests differ, what’s the process, and what about antibody tests?]

Three criteria

“The key here is we can end healthy distancing when we think we have the resources to contain a new outbreak,” Patterson said.

Paterson cited Frieden’s work on when it’s safe to come back into normal contact:

  1. When there are no longer new cases spreading widely in the area (“community spread”).
  2. When the capacity of the healthcare system can withstand a moderate outbreak.
  3. When patients can quickly get testing and public health officials can trace contacts from any new COVID-19 patients.

For city services, Patterson said the city could look to start with the lowest-risk, most important services.

“It needs to be slow and methodical,” he said. “It’s really important for us to be adaptive. It’s up to the disease to decide and not us.”

McLean said she and City of Boise workers are closely monitoring modeling data, and hoping to work with the State of Idaho on a model it is developing.

Don Day - BoiseDev Editor
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at don@boisedev.com.

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