Idaho coronavirus update, 3.26.20: Educators are essential; first three deaths confirmed

Educators and education are essential.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra speaks during a news conference about coronavirus preparation on March 13. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

The state spelled that out in the statewide stay-home order that Gov. Brad Little announced Wednesday. Little urged workers to work from home if possible, and ordered non-essential businesses to close for three weeks.

Quoting directly from the order, essential business includes:

“Education institutions — including public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities — for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions, provided that social distancing of six feet per person is maintained to the greatest extent possible.”

State Board of Education President Debbie Critchfield and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra agreed with Little.

“The governor, the State Board of Education and I all consider education an essential service,” Ybarra said in a written statement. “Schools across Idaho are rapidly adapting to the new realities of coronavirus, social distancing and the challenges of quickly shifting how education is delivered. Every day my team and I are in contact with school leaders and parents across Idaho.”

The stay-home order doesn’t just require Idahoans to self-isolate at home, whether or not they are sick.

The historic, wide-ranging order closes businesses and restricts gatherings and travel.

What’s the bottom line?

“All persons may leave their residences only for essential activities, essential government functions or to operate essential businesses,” the order states.

What are essential activities? (A partial list.)

  • Engaging in activities essential to health and safety, such as obtaining medical supplies, food, visiting a health care facility, obtaining pet and livestock feed and supplies.
  • Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, bicycling, hiking or running, provided individuals comply with social distancing requirements.

What are essential businesses? (A partial list.)

Education, health care facilities and infrastructure, grocery stores, certified farmers’ markets and produce stands, pet stores, liquor stores, banks, auto repair, gas stations, news organizations, hardware stores, plumbers and electricians.

What is banned?

“All travel is prohibited, including but not limited to, travel on scooter, motorcycle, automobile or public transit, except for essential travel and essential activities…”

“All people in Idaho shall immediately cease hosting or participating in all public and private gatherings and multi-person activities for social, spiritual and recreational purposes, regardless of the number of people involved, except as specifically identified (as essential).”

State confirms first three coronavirus deaths

In a news release posted shortly after 1:30 p.m. Thursday, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported the Idaho’s first deaths related to COVID-19.

The victims include:

  • Two Blaine County men, one over the age of 60 and the other over age 80.
  • A Canyon County man over the age of 70, who had underlying health issues.

“The news of the first deaths in Idaho resulting from COVID-19 is deeply saddening and a grave reminder that everyone MUST do all they can to prevent the spread of this virus,” Little said in a statement posted to Twitter Thursday afternoon. “Please follow the statewide stay-home order and pray for the loved ones of the people who passed.”

State health officials issued statements as well.

“This is very sad news, and we send our condolences to the families and friends of each of these individuals,” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator for Health and Welfare’s Division of Public Health. “This underscores the importance of Gov. Little’s order to stay home – we all have to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”

Confirmed cases update

On Thursday, the state’s coronavirus website and local health districts reported 192 confirmed cases in Idaho, including the three deaths. The state reported cases in 17 of the 44 counties. The most cases were in Blaine (86), Ada (54), Canyon (21), Kootenai (10) and Nez Perce (four). The state reported two cases each in East Idaho’s Bannock, Jefferson, Madison and Teton counites, while Payette, Valley, Cassia, Twin Falls, Bingham, Custer, Fremont and Idaho counties had one confirmed case.

More updates from Little planned

Little will take questions at 8 p.m. tonight, in a live broadcast on Idaho Public Television and the state’s website. Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen and state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn will join him.

At noon Friday, Little will participate in a Statehouse news conference. During that event, Little will discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the state budget and resources for businesses and the suddenly unemployed. That news conference will stream live via Idaho Public Television.

Stay-home order catches some off guard

Little’s stay-home order surprised some Idahoans, assured others and rankled more than a few.

Interestingly, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, appears to have been left out of the loop.

“This afternoon Gov. Brad Little issued a sweeping, statewide stay-at-home order that came as a surprise to many Idahoans, myself included,” the Idaho Falls Republican wrote on her Facebook page.

The first-term lieutenant governor also added a nonscientific poll asking whether readers agree with Little’s decision. So far, more than 10,000 votes were logged, with an interesting debate playing out in the comments section.

This a breaking news story that will be updated.



Clark Corbin

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