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With hospitalizations surging, Little moves Idaho back to Stage Three

COVID-19 Idaho

Idaho will move back to Stage Three of its reopening plan, Gov. Brad Little announced Monday.

“Idaho is at a critical juncture,” Little said. “This is unacceptable.”

He said the state would move back to Stage Three with some modifications.

The key differences in Stage Three include:

  • Limiting indoor public gatherings to 50 people.
  • Outdoor gatherings limited to 25% of capacity.
  • Closure of large venues.
  • Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs can only open with “seating only,” in the style of a sit-down restaurant.
  • Encouraging businesses to use telework “whenever possible and feasible.”
  • It also means long term care facilities will see operational changes including a mask mandate.
  • The state said it would detail additional differences online later this afternoon.

[First-person account: I got COVID in Boise. I’m fine, but here’s what I went through]

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“We are in a crisis with our healthcare system in Idaho due to the pandemic. Hospitals throughout the state are quickly filling up are already full of COVID patients, and many healthcare workers are out sick with COVID.”

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Little noted that hospitals in Kootenai County, the Magic Valley, and Eastern Idaho are all dealing with capacity issues. He said hospitals are canceling or postponing elective procedures. He said the veteran’s hospital in Boise may bring in a temporary facility due to overcrowding issues.

[A month after purchase, Saltzer’s new owner will merge to form larger healthcare system]

“From day one of Idaho’s fight against COVID-19, our goal has been to preserve lives and protect Idaho’s healthcare capacity,” Little said. “We have stated over and over that this is about flattening the curve and slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

Ada County, the state’s largest population center, moved back to a modified Stage Three later in June, where it remains. Little said the more stringent restrictions would take precedence, but the changes are similar to Ada County’s existing order.

A step back

The move comes after Idaho entered Stage Four of its reopening plan in June – and then stayed there for months. Every two weeks, Little holds a news conference, and in each instance said the state would not leave Stage Four. Little largely regionalized the COVID-19 response and left most decisions up to each local public health district.

“This does not mean our economy is on lockdown,” Little said. “It doesn’t mean in-person church will end. It especially doesn’t mean we should go to full remote learning in our schools. We’ve put millions into returning students safely to school.”

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He also said the changes would not impact in person voting plans.

Little said the localized approach is his “preferred approach,” but felt a more agressive set of measures statewide was needed due to the connect nature of Idaho’s healthcare system.

“The localized approach was the right thing to do, but did not work as well as it should because the virus is relentless,” Little said.

He noted local officials can institute additional measures, like mask mandates. Little did not institute a mask mandate. He said the move to Stage Three is the “appropriate” next action.

“There are places in Idaho where not enough has been done. The no action approach is not a responsible action.”

He urged citizens to press on health officials to “do the right thing.”

“I hope people have gotten past the point of thinking the virus isn’t real.”

Cases, deaths on the rise

On a per-capita basis, Ada County ranks in the middle of Idaho’s 44 counties in the number of cases over the last two weeks. Madison County, which contains Rexburg, is the highest-ranked county in the state.

To date, 59,344 Idahoans contracted COVID-19, according to data compiled by the New York Times, or about 3.3 out of every 100 people.  A total of 574 people have died with COVID-19 listed as a cause, or .32 for every 100 people. The number of cases increased by 49% over the past 14 days, while the number of deaths increased by 62%.

On a higher level, 700 more people have died in Idaho than in an average year between March 15th and September 12th.

The number of people hospitalized reached its second-highest level in recent weeks.  In Twin Falls, St. Luke’s Health System said it would limit the number of children admitted to the facility in that region due to strain on the system.

Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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