Idaho will remain in coronavirus limbo for another two weeks, even as the number of COVID-19 cases in the state surpasses 50,000.

The state added 718 new confirmed or probable cases Thursday, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

That’s the second-largest daily tally since the first case was recorded in March. It brings the seven-month total to 50,610, with more than 29 percent of those being reported in just the last month.

During one of his regular news conferences in Boise on Thursday, Gov. Brad Little said Idaho will stay in Stage 4 of its four-phase reopening plan for two more weeks, largely because the rising caseload has resulted in too many people needing medical treatment.

The state has been stuck in Stage 4 since mid-June. No statewide business closures or mandates are in effect, although social distancing and other safety protocols are still recommended.

Little urged continued vigilance Thursday, saying the falling temperatures and increased activity in schools create conditions to further the virus’s spread.

“Our personal actions are, for the most part, free of cost and a minor sacrifice relative to the reward of keeping a loved one from getting sick,” he said. “This is about personal responsibility — something Idaho knows all about. Wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands and stay home if you’re sick.”

Idaho currently has the eighth-highest per-capita infection rate in the nation, according to the seven-day rolling average maintained by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Montana, Utah and Wyoming are also in the Top 10. Oregon and Washington, by contrast, rank near the bottom.

As of Thursday, Idaho was reporting 33.7 cases per 100,000 population, compared to 8.2 in Washington.

Washington added another 676 COVID-19 cases Thursday, bringing its total to 96,185. That includes 2,232 fatalities, compared to 517 in Idaho.

Regionally, north central Idaho and southeastern Washington reported 82 more cases Thursday. There were 31 in Whitman County, 23 in Nez Perce County, 10 in Asotin County, seven in Latah County, six in Lewis County and five in Idaho County.

Public Health – Idaho North Central District has recorded a total of 1,799 cases since the pandemic began. More than 1,000 of those have been reported in the last month. A total of 26 people have died in the district; eight residents of southeastern Washington have also died.

Counties in eastern Idaho are seeing some of the highest infection rates in the state. Fourteen hospitals in the region issued a joint statement Thursday saying they’re now experiencing the highest number of hospitalizations because of COVID-19 since the pandemic.

“This is placing a significant strain on hospital resources,” the statement said. “We’re asking our communities to practice the personal responsibility behaviors that science has indicated will reduce the spread of COVID-19, as well as other infectious illnesses such as influenza.”

Pullman Regional Hospital announced Thursday that two of its employees tested positive for the virus.

“Both are now quarantining,” the hospital said in a news release. “Contact tracing is taking place and all staff in close contact with the two employees have been tested.”

As part of its ongoing safety precautions, the hospital has restricted visitation in all in-patient areas and only one birthing partner can accompany patients during their stay at the BirthPlace.

In other coronavirus-related news:

The Whitman County Health Department updated its recommendations Thursday to support in-person or hybrid teaching at elementary schools within the Pullman School District.

Superintendent Bob Maxwell could not immediately be reached for comment.

The health department continues to recommend distance learning for middle and high schools within the Pullman School District. It supports hybrid or in-person classes for all other schools within the county.

Village Centre Cinemas announced that its Lewiston theater will temporarily close after one of its employees tested positive for the virus.

The staff member contracted the virus outside of the theater and never had any direct contact with patrons, the cinema announced on its Facebook page.

The facility will undergo a deep cleaning and sanitizing in preparation for reopening Oct. 23.

Father Brad Neeley of All Saints Catholic Parish informed parishioners Thursday that some non-student members of the parish school have tested positive for COVID-19.

Neeley said he’s been in communication with the Diocese and the local public health district and is “awaiting their protocol and guidelines for our campus.”

“Until such time, operations are proceeding as normal,” he said. “We will continue to follow the governor’s and Bishop Peter’s guidelines.”

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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