Faced with a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases and strained health care capacity at hot spots around the state, Idaho Gov. Brad Little ordered a return to a modified Stage 3 reopening Monday.
The move comes as Idaho surpassed 60,000 confirmed or probable cases of the virus since March. That includes another 697 cases and seven more deaths reported Monday.
The Department of Health and Welfare notes that 272 Idahoans are currently receiving hospital treatment for COVID-19. That’s a record high, as is the 75 who are in intensive care.
“We are in a crisis with our health care system in Idaho due to the pandemic,” Little said during a news conference from Boise. “Hospitals throughout the state are quickly filling up and way too many health care workers are out sick with COVID.”
The modified Stage 3 restrictions include limiting indoor gatherings to 50 or fewer people. Football arenas and other outdoor settings will be limited to 25 percent of capacity. Long-term care facilities that don’t already require face masks will now have to do so, and standing-room service will be prohibited at bars, restaurants and nightclubs in an effort to discourage social mingling.
A complete list of restrictions can be found online at rebound.idaho.gov.
Idaho has been in Stage 4 of the state’s four-phase reopening plan since June. The return to Stage 3 “means all individuals and business should follow the recommended protocols for minimizing transmission of the virus,” Little said. “It doesn’t mean our economy is on lockdown; our economy will remain open. It doesn’t mean church services will end, and it doesn’t mean we’re restricting travel into or out of Idaho. It especially doesn’t mean we should go to full remote learning in our schools.”
The governor once again pleaded with Idahoans to take personal responsibility for controlling the virus, including wearing face masks, social distancing, washing their hands frequently and staying home if they’re sick.
“My decision to implement a new statewide order isn’t made lightly,” Little added.
In fact, his preference is for a localized approach, with school boards and regional health boards deciding whether mask mandates and other steps are needed, given conditions in their schools and communities.
That approach, however, “hasn’t worked as well as it should,” he said. “In some parts of state, there has been simply insufficient effort to protect lives.”
Last week, for example, the Panhandle Health District voted to rescind a face mask mandate in Kootenai County, even as Kootenai Health announced it had reached 99 percent capacity at its Coeur d’Alene hospital because of the increase in COVID-19 patients.
In the Magic Valley, Little said, the regional hospital has had to divert children to Boise for treatment, to make room for more COVID-19 patients. People in eastern Idaho could also lose access to specialized care, because hospitals across the border in Utah face similar constraints.
“In Boise, the veterans home is so full, leaders there are prepared to bring in a mobile hospital to treat new patients,” he said.
Dr. Andrew Wilper, chief of staff at the Boise VA Medical Center, said the same veterans who help protect the rights and freedoms of Americans now need Americans to help protect them by wearing a mask and social distancing.
“Don’t mistake an inconvenience for oppression,” he said.
Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s Medical Center in Jerome and the Magic Valley, made a similar plea for people to take the virus seriously and help ease the burden on health care workers.
“The natural outcome of not controlling the virus will be unnecessary deaths and an unnecessary burden on health care workers,” he said. “I continue to hear stories that the coronavirus isn’t real, while others share the false narrative that people without (underlying) medical conditions won’t get sick or die. The reality is, COVID doesn’t discriminate; we do see patients in their 30s and 40s die from the disease.”
Of the 2,444 Idahoans who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the pandemic began, 39 percent are under the age of 60. Forty of the 580 deaths have also involved people under 60.
“The no-action approach to dealing with COVID-19 is not a responsible option,” Little said. “I would ask my fellow Idahoans, please support those leaders who have acted, and communicate with those leaders who have resisted action. They need to recognize the urgency of our situation, for our health, for our economy and to keep our kids in school.”
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