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Gov. Little announces order for Idahoans to stay home as coronavirus spreads

Coronavirus

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Watch Gov. Brad Little’s news conference in the video player above. Photo: Idaho Gov. Brad Little issues a statewide stay-at-home order on Wednesday at Gowen Field. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

Idaho Gov. Brad Little will order Idahoans to stay home as he ramps up efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, he said Wednesday.

The order will last for 21 days. Essential activities, like going to grocery stores or picking up food from restaurants, still is allowed. Outdoor exercise near home is, too, with an emphasis on 6-foot spacing between individuals who aren’t members of the same household.

The Idaho Statesman reports the order will be released later Wednesday, Little said, but it takes effect immediately.

“Idaho is now in a new stage with confirmed community transmission now occurring in Idaho’s most densely populated areas,” Little said while making the announcement at Gowen Field in Boise. “… We absolutely have to have this take place.”

Among the activities exempted from the order are health care, public safety and other essential work. Businesses that don’t provide essential services “must take all steps necessary for employees to work remotely from home.” Restaurant dining rooms will be closed statewide, but takeout and delivery can continue.

“I encourage all of us to support our neighborhood establishments,” Little said.

People at higher risk of severe illness — those over 65 or who are “health-compromised” — “should avoid leaving their homes,” according to guidance from the governor’s office.

Businesses that can stay open include grocery stores, health care facilities, utlities, gas stations, financial institutions, residential- and home-based care, veterinary services, hardware stores, child care for essential workers, infrastructure and “other businesses essential to the safety and well-being of the residents.” All businesses and government agencies must cease “non-essential operations at physical locations across Idaho.” All non-essential travel must cease.

Little was vague about any enforcement actions, but his previous order in Blaine County provided a misdemeanor option for those who violate the rules.

“Peer pressure from the communities is always our first preference,” Little said. “We will look at each instance case by case.”

Little’s action comes less than 24 hours after the announcement that at least one confirmed coronavirus case in Ada County was the result of community spread. Blaine County previously has experienced community spread, and the Panhandle Health District indicated Wednesday afternoon that one of the nine cases in Kootenai County likely was from community spread.

The latest Kootenai case, announced at 1 p.m. Mountain on Wednesday, was the 100th confirmed case in Idaho for the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. It was 12 days from Idaho’s first case to its 100th, and just three days from its 50th to its 100th.

Blaine County already was under an Order to Self-Isolate that Little issued last week once community spread was established. That order included misdemeanor enforcement.

“The compliance is really high,” Little said.

In the Blaine order, residents may leave to provide or receive certain essential services, engage in certain essential activities and work for essential business and government services, according to a press release. The order also exempts individuals experiencing homelessness from the self-isolation order, but urges them to find shelter or contact a government agency that can help; directs all businesses and governmental agencies to cease operations at physical locations in Blaine County; prohibits any non-essential gatherings of any number of people; and orders all non-essential travel to cease. Restaurants still can provide takeout and delivery.

Little has drawn criticism locally and nationally for not taking more significant action against coronavirus but he defended his approach at Wednesday’s press conference. He also signed an “extreme emergency declaration” that gives the state additional tools to slow the spread of the virus.

“I’ve been in daily contact with our state’s public health experts, who’ve been guiding me in my decisions about the state’s response,” Little said. “The experts tell us that the timing of decisions are extremely important. Every state is in a different stage. I am confident that the decisions that we have made in Idaho, over the past few weeks and months, have been solidly grounded in the advice for epidemiologists and our infectious disease experts.”

On Tuesday night, Central District Health and Southwest District Health announced the first community transmission case in the Treasure Valley in a joint press release. Community spread or transmission is defined as illness within a community that lacks connection to travel or other confirmed cases, according to the health districts’ release.

Of the 24 confirmed coronavirus cases in Ada County through Tuesday afternoon, one was labeled community transmission and one was pending investigation. The other 22 Ada cases were associated with travel, according to Central District Health.

“There is no way for definitive source identification with travel-related cases,” CDH Public Information Officer Christine Myron wrote in an email to the Idaho Statesman. “We rely on a person’s travel history in conjunction with information like symptom onset to determine the likely acquisition risks.”

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