Idaho will remain in Stage 4 of its pandemic reopening plan for at least another two weeks, state officials announced Thursday, citing a recent rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state.

This marks the sixth time Gov. Brad Little has extended Stage 4, which began June 13. The stage was initially planned to last two weeks, but has been continually extended by two-week intervals since then.

“I do not classify staying in Stage 4 as a failure,” Little said in a press conference Thursday. “Statewide, our numbers and metrics are looking pretty good. Even in many of the hotspots, we are seeing encouraging trends. But that is not a reason to let our guard down.”

As of Wednesday evening, there were 32,664 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Idaho, according to the state’s dedicated coronavirus website, with 296 new cases reported Wednesday. That number indicates a continuation of a decline in new case rates in recent weeks.

“We’re very concerned whether we’ll be able to keep going with this downward trend,” said State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn. “For now, we’re very encouraged by these numbers.”

The percent of tests returning a positive result has also declined, according to Hahn. As of Thursday, just over 8 percent of tests were coming back positive. In an ideal world, state officials have said, roughly 5 percent of tests would return positive results.

“It’s not where we need to be,” Hahn said. “We’re not feeling safe and secure.”

While hospital emergency departments have reported declines in the number of patients showing up with COVID-19 symptoms and the number of patients admitted to hospitals from emergency departments with coronavirus symptoms, the overall number of people admitted to the hospital each day with a possible or confirmed case of COVID-19 has increased, Hahn said.

With cold weather and flu season approaching, Little and Hahn said, opportunities for community spread of COVID-19 will likely increase in the coming months. Little encouraged Idahoans to get a flu shot to alleviate the burden on hospitals and health care workers this winter.

Nearly half a million adults in Idaho—more than one-third of the state’s adult population—are considered at risk of developing a severe complication from COVID-19, Little told reporters.

“These are our neighbors, family members and loved ones,” Little said.

Thursday’s announcement followed a tumultuous special session of the Idaho Legislature last week, which attracted protesters unhappy with the state’s coronavirus response and resulted in multiple arrests.

“It has been a great challenge to balance all the public’s expectations during this pandemic,” Little said Thursday. “But time and time again, we have stuck to the facts and the science in our response to the coronavirus in Idaho.”

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