Idaho will move into the third phase of its staged reopening plan this weekend, Gov. Brad Little confirmed Thursday, allowing bars to open, gatherings of up to 50 people to take place, and non-essential travel to resume.
Movie theaters will also be able to reopen Saturday, the governor announced—two weeks sooner than originally planned.
“Due to the sacrifices Idahoans have made in the past two months and the care they have shown for their neighbors, I am hopeful that we passed the worst of COVID-19 in our state—if we all continue to routinely practice measures to prevent its spread,” Little said in a press conference.
There were 2,731 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Idaho as of Thursday afternoon, according to the state’s coronavirus website. Eighty-two Idahoans have died from the virus. On Wednesday, there were 32 new cases reported.
Blaine County had 501 confirmed cases and 11 probable cases as of Thursday afternoon, according to the South Central Public Health District website. Eight of those cases were still being monitored.
As recently as Tuesday, the governor said he wasn’t sure whether the state was ready to move into the third stage: Little said on an AARP Idaho call to discuss COVID-19 that he wanted to see whether the state had experienced a significant rise in cases during Stage 2 before making a “commitment” to moving forward, the Idaho Press reported.
In determining whether to move forward into Stage 3, state officials took into account several factors, state epidemiologist Christine Hahn said Thursday.
“We look at the number of cases, but we also need to look at the bigger picture,” Hahn told reporters. That bigger picture includes hospital capacity and whether there are at least 50 ventilators and 50 ICU beds available statewide, she explained. “We’re well over that right now,” Hahn said.
In the Wood River Valley, most bars were permitted to open along with restaurants on May 16 because most bars in the region serve food. The Silver Dollar Saloon in Bellevue is one of the few bars in the area that does not. On Thursday afternoon, owner Pete Prekeges was gearing up to reopen on Saturday.
To meet six-foot social distancing requirements, tables and bar seating has been spaced apart, Prekeges said. Customers will order at one designated spot at the bar, and staff will wear masks and gloves. Customers must sit at a table or bar stool—standing customers will not be served.
The Silver Dollar and Grumpy’s in Ketchum, which is also owned by Prekeges, “have more plexiglass than God has children,” Prekeges said. Grumpy’s, which was allowed to open as a restaurant in Stage 2, will continue to serve customers only at spaced-out tables for the time being, Prekeges said; because of the layout of the restaurant, opening up bar seating would violate six-foot social distancing recommendations.
“Until there’s no longer social distancing required, we’re going to have to go with the current setup,” Prekeges said. “Once the social distancing guidelines are no longer in place, we’re going to have to do some long and hard thinking. Really, a lot of this we’re probably going to have to do until there’s a vaccine.”
Whiskey Jacques’ in Ketchum, which also serves food, has been open since May 16. Since it re-opened to allow in-house dining, Whiskey’s has only seated patrons upstairs and outside, General Manager Ryan Kolquist said—and things will stay that way for the time being.
“We don’t want to jump the gun,” Kolquist said.
Whiskey’s plans to reopen its downstairs bar area and resume live music on June 13, when the fourth stage of the reopening plan is scheduled to begin. The bar will restrict the number of people allowed inside during Stage 4, which is scheduled to last through June 26.
Initially, bars were not scheduled to open until Stage 4; Little announced at the start of Stage 2 that the state was moving bar openings up two weeks to Stage 3. On Thursday, he announced that movie theaters—another category of business included in Stage 4—would also move up to Stage 3. Little said state officials approved adding movie theaters to the third stage after theaters came together and presented a list of safety protocols to the state.
“I would much rather accelerate things, and still give people prior notification [of opening], than I would slow things down,” Little said.
Non-essential travel is allowed to resume under Stage 3, but visitors coming into the state from places with a high concentration of confirmed COVID-19 cases should still self-quarantine for 14 days, Little said. He urged Idahoans to continue practicing social distancing and to wear masks in retail and grocery stores.
By wearing a mask inside a store, “what you’re doing is being respectful of the clerk that waits on you,” Little said. “Wearing a mask is just the right thing to do.”
Gatherings of up to 50 people may take place as of Saturday, whereas Stage 2 allowed gatherings of less than 10 people. A list of safety recommendations for gatherings released by the state earlier this week included maintaining social distancing of six feet or more, wearing face coverings in public, and frequently disinfecting commonly touched surfaces.
Event planners and organizers should hold events outdoors if possible, according to the state, utilize online ticket sales and RSVP systems, hold events online through video conferencing or live streaming when possible, and check in with their local public health district periodically leading up to the event to understand the current community risk for exposure to COVID-19.