Citing a growing strain on hospitals, Idaho is moving back into a modified version of Stage 3 of Gov. Brad Little’s economic rebound plan, the governor announced Monday.
A statewide health order signed by the governor includes limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, certain safety requirements for long-term care facilities, and a seating-only policy at bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
“Idaho is at a critical juncture,” Little said in a press conference. “This is unacceptable and we must do more.”
Idaho had been in Stage 4 since June 13. The stage was initially planned to last two weeks, but has been extended in two-week increments since then.
Since lifting a statewide stay-at-home order at the beginning of May, Little has repeatedly said he believes a localized approach is the best way for Idaho to address the virus, with local public officials and public health districts determining safety measures and restrictions.
“I want to be very clear about something: the localized approach is still my desired approach in protecting lives and our economy,” Little said Monday.
“An eventual shift to a localized approach was the right thing to do,” he continued. “But it has not worked as well as it should because the virus is relentless and in some parts of the state, there simply has been insufficient efforts to protect lives.”
Idaho in recent days has recorded soaring coronavirus case numbers and vastly increased COVID-related hospitalizations. As of Monday afternoon, there were 59,344 total confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases statewide—including 573 deaths—with 650 new cases reported that day. With the exception of Camas County, all counties in the South Central Public Health District—which includes Blaine County, Lincoln County, Twin Falls County and five others—were at the red risk level, indicating “critical” risk.
“Hospitals throughout the state are quickly filling up or are already full with COVID-19 patients and other patients, and way too many healthcare workers are out sick with COVID-19,” Little said.
Under the new health order:
• Indoor gatherings are limited to 50 people or less.
• Outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 percent capacity.
• Physical distancing requirements are in place for gatherings of all types.
• Long-term care facilities will not be allowed to operate without requiring masks on their premises.
• There will be seating only—no standing or mingling—at bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Nightclubs can only operate as bars.
• Employers should continue to protect at-risk employees by allowing remote work or by making special accommodations for these individuals in the workplace.
• All individuals and businesses should follow recommended protocols for minimizing transmission of the virus as outlined on rebound.idaho.gov.
The return to Stage 3 “doesn’t mean our economy is on lockdown,” Little said. “Our economy will remain open.”
Travel into and out of the state will not be restricted under the new health order, Little said, and in-person church services are still allowed to take place.
The governor on Monday also encouraged schools to stay open for in-person classes when possible rather than switching to online remote learning.
“We must continue to prioritize safe in-person learning for students across Idaho,” Little said.
Local regulations that are more restrictive than the state’s Stage 3 restrictions will remain in effect, the governor noted.
“I sincerely hope that some people have finally passed the point of thinking the pandemic is not real or not a big deal, or that their personal actions don’t really affect anything,” Little said. “We have seen the direct impact between rising case numbers in our communities and the overwhelming impacts on our healthcare system—something that affects all of us, whether we have COVID or not.”
The health order goes into effect at 12 a.m. on Tuesday.