Idaho Gov. Brad Little isn’t yet ready to shut down schools, bars and restaurants statewide to stem the spread of COVID-19, but he is ready to pull that trigger if person-to-person spread of the coronavirus increases.
That so-called “community spread” was behind his isolation order Thursday night for Blaine County, where 19 cases have been confirmed. But the governor and his staff haven’t seen enough evidence to extend that lockdown statewide.
“We don’t have community spread,” Little said of taking more restrictive measures like those employed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “If that was the right thing, when we had a case in Washington we should have shut down the whole United States.”
Little, who was making a brief stop in Lewiston on Friday afternoon, said the social and economic ramifications of a blanket shutdown would be too severe. And as a rural state, Idaho’s risk of rapid spread is lower than an urbanized state like Washington.
Still, Little and the chairman of his coronavirus working group — Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director David Jeppesen — didn’t disagree with the Moscow City Council’s decision Friday to prohibit dine-in service for bars and restaurants and restrict gatherings larger than 10 people.
Little added that he and his advisers are listening to the guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s own epidemiologists as they make daily decisions about how to “flatten the curve,” or slow the spread of COVID-19 so hospitals and health care centers aren’t overwhelmed.
“This is going to come at some time, somewhere,” he said. “That’s the science of it, and we’re following the science. And when the science says when X happens, you do Y.”
Little also addressed the ongoing shortage of testing supplies and personal protective equipment for first responders and health care workers, saying he has been on the phone with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others in the federal government who are promising that help is on the way.
But for now, the state will reserve the testing capacity it does have for people who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection, have been to infected areas, or been in contact with infected people. Elderly people who meet those criteria are also given the highest priority for testing.
Still, those in the field remain skeptical that the federal response will bring needed supplies anytime soon. Whitman County Public Health Director Troy Henderson said facilities in his district are still facing shortages of personal protective equipment. And Asotin County Public Health District Administrator Brady Woodbury said hospitals and clinics are sticking to strict testing criteria to maintain their supplies.
Henderson said he is more hopeful on the testing front since there are multiple public and private entities working on developing and distributing those diagnostic supplies.
Public Health-North Central Idaho District public information officer Tara Macke said her office is fielding reports of personal protective equipment shortages in both the health care and community sectors.
“We work closely with the healthcare community to coordinate resources available through numerous channels including state and federal stockpiles,” Macke wrote in an email to the Lewiston Tribune. “We also assist healthcare organizations with developing strategies for optimizing PPE consistent with guidelines published by the CDC.”
She said the district has been able to find and allocate the equipment to any health care organizations that are facing a critical shortage, and are passing on requests to state officials to help fill any unmet needs. Jeppesen said other steps like loosening regulations on professional licenses will allow retired nurses to come back to work during the pandemic.
None of the local public officials reported any positive COVID-19 tests as of Friday afternoon.
Little said his administration is ready to act on the coming economic fallout from heightened community restrictions, like those enacted in Moscow on Friday. Those will include working with the Idaho Department of Labor to relax unemployment requirements, like people having to prove they are looking for work in order to receive benefits.
Ultimately, Little said that waiting to impose tougher restrictions on commerce and personal movement will allow those working on treatments for COVID-19 to catch up, as well as humans’ ability to fight back on their own.
“Unless you’re going to shut off everybody in the world for a year or two years, some of this is going to happen,” he said of continuing infections. “By waiting, therapeutics are going to be developed, vaccines are going to be developed, and then some herd immunity will be developed. This is what science and best practices tell us to do, and this is what we’re trying to do in Idaho.”
Other agencies and organizations made coronavirus-related announcements Friday.
- Gritman Medical Center in Moscow announced a new COVID-19 hotline to answer questions regarding symptoms, home treatment and testing guidelines at (208) 883-4109.
- Clearwater Paper in Lewiston, the region’s largest employer, announced a risk mitigation plan, including enhanced sanitation procedures, sick leave, remote work options, travel restrictions, and visitor and meeting policies.
- As of Monday, Public Health offices in Pullman and Colfax will be closed to foot traffic, but will be available by phone, email, fax, mail or appointment. Those who require a face-to-face meeting may call Bill Tensfeld, (509) 397-5605.
- The Grangeville Centennial Library will move to curbside service for circulation items beginning Monday. Anyone wishing to order books and other materials may call the library at (208) 983-0951 or order online at firstname.lastname@example.org or valnet.org. Items ordered in advance will be delivered to patrons’ vehicles. Wi-Fi access will continue to be available in the parking areas surrounding the library.
- The beginning beekeeping class to be presented by the LC Valley Beekeeper Association scheduled for March 28 has been canceled.
- The city of McCall, working in consultation with St. Luke’s McCall Hospital, Cascade Medical Center, McCall Police Department, McCall Fire Department, Donnelly Rural Fire Protection District and Valley County Emergency Manager has issued a travel advisory for McCall asking for no visitors and for residents to “stay home, stay healthy” to preserve community resources and health care.
- Working with the city of Lewiston, Beautiful Downtown Lewiston has established a series of 10-minute parking zones in front of downtown businesses to make it easier for customers to use curbside, to-go services.
- ArtFest 2020 in Pullman has been canceled, and registration fees will be refunded.
- Idaho State Parks and Recreation is closing all camper cabins and yurts at its campgrounds, and will give all those with reservations full refunds.
- The Idaho Make-A-Wish Foundation for terminally ill children is asking people to participate in its new “Messages of Hope” program at www.wish.org/star, since more than three quarters of its wishes require travel that is now restricted under COVID-19 guidelines.
- Prestige Care is offering part-time employment aimed at community members who have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those interested may find more information at www.prestigecare.com/careers.
- The Pullman Winter Market announced on its Facebook page that today’s market at the Brelsford Visitor Center is canceled. Contact email@example.com for additional information or concerns.
- The University of Idaho has canceled performances of DancersDrummersDreamers. Ticket holders may contact the UI Ticket Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 885-7212 for refunds.
- Help the Palouse, a website, has been established at www.helpthepalouse.com, and is designed to assist local businesses. Businesses are invited to add a listing and update the public on ongoing changes for their business.
- The meeting of the Pullman City Council scheduled for Tuesday is canceled.
- Idler’s Rest Nature Preserve has canceled today’s Idler’s Rest Equinox Hike. All group activities and events for the next month are canceled.
- Moscow and Pullman Building Supply is offering call-in orders and delivery, as well as in-store pickup. Call the Moscow store at (208) 882-4716, and the Pullman store at (509) 332-2627 for more information.
- APOD Productions has canceled performances of A Theatre Showcase. For more information, visit www.aodproductions.org.
- The city of Pullman announced senior meal service, sponsored by the Whitman County Council on Aging, is available for delivery or pickup on Tuesdays and Fridays. Call to (509) 338-3307 to be added to the list for that day’s meal.
- The Washington State Department of Transportation is extending the deadline for removing studded tires to April 30 because of COVID-19 virus concerns and in support of Gov. Jay Inslee’s guidance to help reduce the spread of the virus by limiting social interactions.
- The Southeast Economic Development Association is surveying business owners and managers about the effects of COVID-19. The survey can be found online at www.seweda.org.
- The Palouse Food Pantry will distribute food Wednesday. Because of the coronavirus, pick-up of food will be done by drive-up only. For more information, contact Calvary Chapel at (509) 595-3049. The food pantry is open to residents within the 99161 ZIP code in need of food assistance.
Mills may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2266. The Tribune’s Kathy Hedberg and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News contributed to this report.