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With coronavirus cases climbing, Little keeps Idaho in Stage 4 of reopening plan


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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that the state must stay in Stage 4 of its reopening plan as some counties see big spikes in new coronavirus cases and the state’s count climbs.

He said during a news conference that Idaho will transition into a regional approach to the virus.

Little announced that the state did not meet the metrics needed to move out of the final stage of the governor’s four-stage reopening plan. Idaho will be in Stage 4 for at least another two weeks, he said.

“I’m confident that by working together, Idaho will rebound more swiftly,” Little said.

Statewide, more than 4,100 people have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic reached Idaho, and 90 people have died. The percentage of positive tests is now well over 5 percent, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn. That must be under 5 percent to advance.

Another metric involves health care workers. The Idaho Rebounds plan requires that Idaho have fewer than 2 health professionals per day reported as COVID-19 positive over a 14-day evaluation period, or that there’s a downward trend in reported cases among health care workers.

Idaho added 79 health care workers with COVID-19 to its database from June 10 through June 23, the 14 days immediately following the Stage 3 evaluation window. That’s 5.6 per day, and Hahn acknowledged that the increase was concerning.

Hahn explained that hospitals do have enough personal protective equipment and hospital beds availability. But, the health care workers seem to be getting infected out in the community, not on the job, especially those that live in Ada and Canyon counties.

On Monday, Central District Health announced that Ada County was being directed to take a step backward, moving into the original Stage 3 of the Idaho Rebounds plan. The district closed bars and large venues, and banned gatherings of more than 50 people, after seeing a major spike in coronavirus cases.

Ada County will remain in Stage 3, as Little noted that health districts and mayors have the clear authority to impose stricter measures.

“We want our children back in school at the end of summer, so please do not let your guard down,” Little said.

Across the country, roughly 2.3 million people in America have been infected with the virus and more than 121,000 people had died as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. States throughout the South and West have seen a major increase in infections the past two weeks, causing some — including Utah and Oregon — to retreat from reopening plans.

New outbreaks

Ada and Canyon counties have seen spikes in their caseload and have watched total numbers balloon. The outbreaks are largely led by young people, and health officials have repeatedly urged residents to continue social distancing, wear a mask when in public and remain diligently hygienic.

As of Tuesday, Idaho’s 14-day case average climbed from 55.1 cases per day on June 19 to 85.9 through Tuesday — a 56% percent increase in just four days.

Authorities in the Southwest Health District, which includes Canyon County, have said they do not have plans to implement additional restrictions, despite their recent increases. As of Wednesday, Canyon County had 489 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to the the district, and had seen six deaths related to COVID-19. The county set a record Wednesday with 54 new reported cases in one day.

Public health districts have the authority to issue orders regarding their district or a specific county should there be a risk to public health.

The Idaho Department of Correction on Wednesday also announced that it had its first confirmed case of coronavirus at one of its prisons, the Idaho State Correctional Center. ISCC is a men’s prison in Kuna that house more than 2,100 men.

Unemployment in Idaho

The Idaho Department of Labor said Thursday that new initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits totaled 4,285 for the week ending June 20, increasing by 18 percent (654 claims) from the previous week.

Idaho workers filed 157,143 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the 14 weeks since the COVID-19 state of emergency declaration, according to the department. That’s 2.7 times the total number of initial claims filed in all of 2019 in three months. About 78% of the initial claims filed were in the first six weeks

In the previous week, Idaho had seen some success in dealing with the backlog of people waiting for unemployment benefits. The department paid out $52.8 million in claims during the week of June 14-20, down from $86 million the week of June 7-13.