Gov. Brad Little said the state met the criteria to move to the next stage of the state’s reopening plan on Saturday by the narrowest of margins.
Speaking during a press conference Thursday morning at the Statehouse, Little told reporters the state will move to stage four of the Idaho Rebounds plan Saturday. That means larger gatherings of more than 50 will be permitted, sporting venues and night clubs can open with diminished capacity and 100 percent of Idaho businesses will be able to open this weekend.
While Little expressed happiness that the state will move forward with the reopening plan, he issued several warnings during a largely somber press conference.
“I want to stress something very important,” Little said. “We almost did not make it to stage four this week.”
State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said there was a surge in cases in early June. Both she and Little expressed concern that Idaho could see more COVID-19 cases, especially as testing ramps up.
Little has consistently praised Idahoans for modifying their behavior to protect their neighbors during the pandemic. But Thursday he issued one of his strongest rebukes to Idahoans who ignored the stay-healthy guidelines.
“Despite our incredible progress, there are still some in Idaho who are not practicing measures to keep themselves and others safe,” he said. “Even if contracting COVID-19 is low on your personal concerns, I urge you to practice safe measures to protect others.”
“This isn’t just a Boise and Treasure Valley issue,” Little continued. “All across the country we’re seeing the virus move from cities into rural areas where health care access is limited.”
In order to protect vulnerable Idahoans and realize a robust economic rebound, Little made an urgent plea for Idahoans to maintain physical distancing of six feet, wear a mask in public, focus on hand washing, disinfect commonly touched surfaces regularly and stay home if they are sick.
Moments later, just outside Little’s press conference, a group of legislators including Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, Steven Harris, R-Meridian, Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, and Paul Amador, R, Coeur d’Alene, were huddled closely in a small circle in the hallway without wearing masks. The legislators were in town to honor the late Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Nezperce, and did not attend Little’s press conference.
One metric the state is worried about is the number of new cases among healthcare workers. In order to progress to stage four, the state needed to have a downward trend in new cases over the previous 14 days, or less than two new cases reported per day on average among healthcare workers.
“If that was our only criteria, we would not have met it because we exactly had two per day on average,” Hahn said.
“As the governor mentioned we feel like we kind of squeaked under on this one,” Hahn continued. “So, I just want to second what the governor said, that we are concerned. We urge people to remember: to keep our economy open we all need to do our part. The disease is still here and it’s still circulating in the state.”
Although there has been pushback to the restrictions, Little defended the state’s response.
“There was no other way to effectively slow the spread of this deadly disease in our state without the actions we took together,” Little said. “The no action alternative would have been a catastrophe.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Idaho was tracking 3,260 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, along with 85 deaths. Another update is excepted at about 5 p.m. this afternoon.