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Little moves Idaho into Stage 3 of reopening: Bars, theaters back in business


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Gov. Brad Little gives an update on Idaho’s coronavirus reopening plan during a public address at the Statehouse aired online Friday, May 22, 2020

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Despite a slightly rising number of coronavirus cases in the past week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that he is moving the state into Stage 3 of his reopening plan, called Idaho Rebounds.

That means nearly all remaining businesses, including bars and movie theaters, can reopen on Saturday.

During a press conference Thursday in the Idaho Capitol’s Lincoln Auditorium, Little and other state officials said the state had met the criteria to reopen more businesses and allow more gatherings. The move was announced despite an uptick in the average number of new coronavirus cases during the current 14-day window compared to the April 29-May 12 window.

Idaho averaged 24.7 new cases per day during those two weeks, but that number has increased to 28.8 for May 13-26, the result of a growing number of coronavirus clusters being reported in food processing facilities around the state. Outbreaks have been connected to food processing facilities in Burley, Jerome, Weiser and Kuna since COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, first started spreading.

With the move to Stage 3, bars will be able to open starting Saturday “if they demonstrate ability to meet business protocols,” according to state guidelines.

Originally slated to be part of Stage 4, bars were moved up by Little when he announced the Stage 2 reopening two weeks ago. He said during a news conference on May 14 that the decision was based on science and not any political pressure. Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who owns a restaurant and pub in Idaho Falls, has been among the many to speak in opposition to the state’s mandated closures.

Movie theaters were also initially forbidden from opening until Stage 4, but Little said Thursday that theaters were moved up to Stage 3. He said some movie house owners indicated they still would wait to reopen.

Nonessential travel may resume in Stage 3, as long as the location that allows it does not have ongoing transmission. A 14-day self-quarantine for people entering Idaho can be discontinued now as well.

Gatherings of 10 to 50 people, both public and private, may take place beginning Saturday, as long as physical distancing and precautionary measures are being followed.

People are still encouraged to wear masks when in public to prevent the spread of the virus and to protect themselves and others.

Idaho’s state epidemiologist, Dr. Christine Hahn, spoke Thursday about the criteria the state took into consideration. She said the state has seen a downward trend of people testing positive and a downward trend of people coming into emergency rooms with COVID-19 symptoms.

Idaho health care providers are not operating under crisis standards of care at hospitals, she said.

“We are very comfortably treating all patients with good standards of care,” Hahn said.

Little said maintaining health care capacity is one of the most important focuses when reopening.

Sports venues are still closed during Stage 3, and visits to jails, prisons and long-term care facilities and nursing homes are still prohibited.

More vulnerable people can resume public interactions, but they should socially distance themselves by 6 feet from others, according to state and health guidelines.

Criteria for reopening

According to the state’s guidelines for reopening, Idaho’s move into Stage 3 was dependent on the positive testing percentage being below 5%. The state has consistently been below this standard, with the data from May 17-23 showing the positive rate in Idaho to be 4.3%.

Little and Hahn said Thursday that their new numbers show the positive testing rate has now fallen to 3.7%.

The testing percentage is based on the day a test was conducted. The information required for that calculation (tests and positive results on a given day) is not publicly available, though. There’s also some question about the data being used for the calculation because Health and Welfare says it doesn’t have full data from some testing sites (but does have all of the positive results).

According to the “weekly percent positivity of PCR testing by specimen collection date” chart on the IDHW website, Idaho had completed a combined 45,194 tests through Saturday, May 23. However, the statewide number of COVID-19 laboratory tests at the top of the same web page showed that only 43,629 tests had been completed at the end of the day Wednesday — a shortage of more than 1,500 tests four days later.

Coronavirus in Idaho

As of Thursday morning, Idaho had 2,493 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. In addition, state health officials said there were 246 “probable cases” of the virus.

Idaho’s death total sits at 82, with the most recent fatality being reported Wednesday in Twin Falls County. A non-Hispanic white woman over the age of 80 died from the virus, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Of Idaho’s 44 counties, 34 have reported cases of the virus, and 18 counties have detected community spread.