Citing an “incredible surge” in confirmed COVID-19 cases, Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that Idaho will remain in Stage 4 of its coronavirus rebound plan for at least two more weeks.
The state did not meet criteria for advancing out of the fourth and final stage of the plan, which was scheduled to end Saturday, Little said in a press conference. This is the second two-week extension of Stage 4, which was originally slated to last through June 26.
All businesses in Idaho, including large venues, were permitted to open under Stage 4, with social distancing and sanitation practices encouraged. Advancing out of the stage would mean lifting certain safety guidance for businesses and travelers.
Idaho has seen a sharp uptick in confirmed and probable coronavirus cases in recent weeks, with the largest increases occurring in the Boise and Twin Falls areas. There were a total of 8,969 cases statewide as of Thursday afternoon, according to the state’s dedicated coronavirus website—more than double the 3,399 cases that had been reported by June 13, when Idaho first advanced from Stage 3 to Stage 4.
“When we originally went into [Stage 4] our numbers were great,” Little told reporters Thursday. “I think when we did that, it was the right thing to do. … I don’t think anybody forecast the kind of community spread we’d have, particularly in [the Treasure Valley] area.”
However, Little added, “In hindsight, we should have given better direction to some of the facilities that we know now are higher-spread areas.”
The percentage of statewide tests with positive results has also increased in recent weeks, State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said in the press conference. Currently, about 10.8 percent of tests are coming back positive.
“Things are not going in the right direction as far as our percent positivity,” Hahn said.
In Blaine County, there were 534 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to the South Central Public Health District. Ten confirmed cases and one probable case were still being monitored, meaning that the patients were still showing certain symptoms or that 10 days had not yet passed since symptoms first appeared.
Hahn pointed to Blaine County, which in March had one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the U.S., as an example of a place where the curve appears to have flattened.
“I think part of that might be herd immunity, and I think part of that is that they’re taking this pretty seriously after the first wave,” Hahn said.
But the Blaine County numbers don’t paint a complete picture of COVID-19’s presence in the Wood River Valley. They only include Blaine County residents—not visitors from other counties or states who have tested positive in Blaine County. If someone who lives in the state of Washington, for instance, tests positive while visiting Blaine County, that number is reported to Washington health officials.
In the press conference Thursday, Hahn and Little said state officials are discussing how best to fill in those information gaps, especially in resort communities like the Wood River Valley.
“We acknowledge that need to figure out how to present to people the big picture,” Hahn said. “I don’t have an answer yet, but we absolutely understand the need to do that.”