Gov. Brad Little says some form of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus will be extended before his initial stay-home order expires Wednesday.
But on Tuesday, he declined to say which restrictions will stay in place, or for how long.
“There is a lot of concern — as there should be — about where we are from both standpoints, from a safety and a prosperity standpoint, but I can’t have people be prosperous if they are not safe,” Little said during an AARP Idaho telephone town hall meeting. “That’s the decision that I get to wrestle with, but I don’t do it lightly.”
Little said he has sought input from the state epidemiologist, Department of Health and Welfare officials and his economic advisers.
As far as what will continue with the stay-home order, Little will make his announcement during an 11 a.m. news conference Wednesday.
Little issued the original statewide stay-home order on March 25. It is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday — unless it is extended or modified.
“As I said on this call, there would obviously be something going forward,” Little said. “We have flattened the curve, but we haven’t brought the curve down. We have community spread in almost every corner of Idaho.”
Even though 12 Idaho counties have not reported positive COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, Little said a lack of testing remains a concern. “Remember where there is no reported cases doesn’t mean there aren’t people there that have the virus.”
When a caller from Twin Falls asked Little “what does good look like?” Little pointed to several indicators, but said the situation is constantly changing.
“Health care capacity and elimination of the spread are two of the things we are looking at,” Little said.
Time and again, Little stressed he can’t provide a date certain when things will return to normal from a social and economic standpoint. Key elements to moving forward include maintaining health care capacity, developing therapeutic treatments and creating a vaccine, a breakthrough that could be a year or more away.
“I can’t build a plan for safety in Idaho on hope, I’ve got to build it on what we know today,” Little said.
During the one-hour event, all but one caller thanked Little for taking steps to protect Idahoans and keep them updated on the state’s response — even if they had questions or sought more specifics.
Only one caller, a Bonner County man, pushed back against the stay-home order. The caller questioned why the state of nearly 1.8 million people would shut down over only 1,500 cases of coronavirus. Asking Little how he could justify the economic harm of a stay-home order, the caller said Idahoans need to get out there and live.
“Had we not done what we did, the number would be 1,000 times worse than that,” Little told him. “Do I like it? Not at all. But all the alternatives are worse than what we are doing.
“The consequences of the no-action alternative are unspeakable,” Little said.
Pocatello-Chubbuck extends closure
A large East Idaho school district has decided to close its doors for the year — rather than waiting on state guidelines to reopen.
Pocatello-Chubbuck School District trustees voted Tuesday to continue remote learning through the remainder of the school year.
“Our hope in making this decision now is to provide clarity and certainty while enhancing continuity of learning in the coming weeks,” Pocatello-Chubbuck district Superintendent Douglas Howell in a letter Tuesday to staff and parents. “Reopening our doors at this point with so much uncertainty remaining would add another monumental disruption to learning.”
Pocatello-Chubbuck is the state’s fifth-largest district in enrollment, but Southeast Idaho has reported a relatively low number of coronavirus cases. Bannock County has only five confirmed coronavirus cases, according to state and local health district reports. On Tuesday, Southeastern Idaho Public Health Department Director Maggie Mann said the continued school closure could help keep the area’s case numbers low.
“We recognize this situation presents challenges for learners, families, and teachers, but we believe it is the healthiest and safest option for the long run,” Mann said in a statement.
The State Board of Education is scheduled to meet Thursday, to discuss guidelines that could allow some school districts to reopen their buildings later this spring.
Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.
Confirmed cases update
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Idaho’s seven public health districts were reporting 1,465 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 39 deaths across the state.
That’s an increase of six deaths and about 12 confirmed cases since Monday.
There are confirmed cases in 32 of Idaho’s 44 counties. Counties with the most cases are Ada (531), Blaine (458), Canyon (167), Twin Falls (79) and Kootenai (45).