Gov. Brad Little issued a statewide emergency declaration Friday in response to concern over the coronavirus.
The declaration will last for 30 days unless modified. It makes money available for the use in the emergency disaster fund, gives Little flexibility for contracting and purchasing supplies and may help the state access health supplies such as respirators.
The declaration does not call for school closures. Little said local superintendents and school boards have the authority to make those calls. As of early Friday afternoon, no K-12 public schools in Idaho have plans to close. However, some school districts have restricted travel and some higher education institutions have increased online classwork.
During a one-hour press conference, Little urged caution. He said the disaster declaration is intended to be proactive.
“Given the magnitude of both the global and national spread our focus is on slowing the spread for two reasons,” Little said. “First, to protect health compromised and elderly and second is to preserve critical health care capacity.”
As of Friday morning, there have been 113 coronavirus tests in Idaho, and no confirmed cases, state officials said. Although he urged calm, Little did say he expected positive cases in Idaho.
When asked how many Idahoans could become infected, state epidemiologist Christine Hahn provided an estimated range of 15 percent to 35 percent of the state’s population. Based on a state population of 1.75 million, the top end of Hahn’s range translates to more than 600,000 Idahoans.
“The coronavirus is highly contagious,” Little said. “If we don’t all do our part to control the spread of coronavirus then our health facilities will be overrun.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra attended Little’s news conference alongside public health officials and other elected officials. Ybarra said she participated in a teleconference Thursday with school superintendents to make sure they are prepared and can minimize disruptions to students.
“New guidance from the CDC today was actually that schools practice more of hand washing and those practical matters at this time,” Ybarra said. “They are urging schools, rather than close for Idaho, they are urging us and across the nation to just talk to kids about hand washing and hygiene like we are with adults.”
Should there be widespread school closures — as is the case on Oregon, Washington and other states — Ybarra said a majority of Idaho school districts appear ready to offer online learning. There are, however, some connectivity concerns in parts of the state and Ybarra said she is waiting to hear from the feds on whether extra dollars will be available to help in rural or isolated areas.
“We’re feeling pretty comfortable about that and schools who were worried about it were having plans in place to drop off assignments, pick up assignments,” Ybarra said. “The majority of school districts have a plan and majority of them said they are able to provide services online.”
With the ISAT testing window on the horizon, Ybarra said the state is awaiting federal guidance but has learned the feds will likely grant waivers to individual schools that need to close.
As part of the state’s coronavirus response, Ybarra said officials are also looking into how schools can drop off meals for students in poverty.
More information about Idaho’s coronavirus response and advice for residents is available online via a new state website.