Sponsored by Maverik
clear sky
humidity: 22%
wind: 13mph SSE
H 73 • L 73

White House document recommends Idaho significantly increase actions to fight coronavirus


Share This

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — The White House coronavirus task force has delivered a report to Idaho that calls for a significant increase in restrictions and other actions to control the state’s coronavirus outbreak.

The document, obtained by the Idaho Statesman through Gov. Brad Little’s office, classifies Idaho and the Boise area in the task force’s “red zone.”

It recommends, among other actions, mask mandates, a social gathering limit of 10 people, bar and gym closures, and improved access to testing in the 14 red counties — including the population centers of Ada (Boise), Canyon (Nampa), Kootenai (Coeur d’Alene) and Bonneville (Idaho Falls).

It recommends similar, but less severe, actions in 17 yellow counties, including Twin Falls and Bannock (Pocatello). Gatherings should be limited to 25 people in those places, bars should be closed and gyms should have limited capacity. Masks still should be required, the recommendations say.

The full federal report, published this week by The New York Times, provides recommendations for every state in the country.

“The governor’s office has received the report,” Little’s press secretary, Marissa Morrison Hyer, wrote in an email to the Statesman. “Gov. Little and the Governor’s Coronavirus Working Group are continuously evaluating recommendations from a number of sources regarding Idaho’s COVID-19 response. The document has been provided to all of Idaho’s public health districts for their consideration.”

Little has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate and has kept Idaho in Stage 4 of its reopening — with no statewide limits on gatherings or closures for bars and gyms — despite failing to meet the criteria to advance three times.

Idaho’s seven-day moving average for new cases increased from 33.9 per day on June 2 to a record high of 568.9 on July 19 during the virus’ summer surge.

Central District Health has closed bars, limited gatherings to 50 and required masks in Ada County. Southwest District Health only recommends masks in its district, which includes hard-hit Canyon County.

Mask mandates also have been implemented by health districts for Bonneville, Kootenai and Teton counties, and by several local governments across the state, including Boise, McCall and Blaine County.


Brandon Atkins, a program manager for Boise-based Central District Health, said Thursday via email that the Idaho portion of the White House report was distributed to CDH by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

“Our Boards of Health continue to rely heavily on the guidance tools provided by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and local/state jurisdiction data coming into each of our offices to make their local decisions,” Atkins wrote. “While you will notice that mask mandates and school criteria are a handful of the most current issues being addressed, we assure you other recommendations, including group gathering restrictions, for example, are well within the purview of the board and their decision-making processes.

“… While the task force has summarized and given recommendations, our local and state leaders are still best equipped to make those decisions for our communities with boots-on-the-ground staff able to watch the trends and data on a more granular level.”

Caldwell-based Southwest District Health didn’t provide comment.

The White House report was dated Sunday. Idaho is in the red because it reported more than 100 new cases per 100,000 residents in the previous week. It takes 1,788 cases in a week (or 255 per day) to reach that threshold.

Idaho’s current seven-day average of new cases (confirmed and probable) is 488.7. It hasn’t been below 255 since July 2.

For Ada County, the red threshold is 482 cases per week (or 69 per day). Ada’s seven-day average hasn’t been that low since June 23. It was 190.1, not including probable cases, on Wednesday.

The White House put Idaho’s per-capita case rate at 196 per 100,000 residents last week — versus a national average of 140.

Idaho also qualifies as red because its test positivity rate is above 10%. The White House reported 18% for last week. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported 13.2%. The national average was 8.5%.


Among the recommendations:

▪ Masks should be worn “at all times outside the home” in red and yellow counties, and government should “ensure that all business retailers and personal services require masks and can safely social distance.” Government should support existing mask mandates in “highly affected counties” and “communicate support for their adoption in other counties and health districts with rapidly rising reported cases.”

▪ Social gatherings should be limited to 10 people or fewer in red counties; 25 or fewer in yellow.

▪ Bars and gyms should be closed in red counties. Bars should be closed in yellow counties, with a 25% limit on gym occupancy, until test positivity dips below 3%.

▪ Residents should be encouraged to eat takeout or eat outside at restaurants in red counties; socially distanced indoor dining is considered OK in yellow.

▪ Residents should reduce “public interactions and activities” to 25% of normal in red counties, 50% in yellow.

▪ Government should institute weekly testing of all workers in assisted living and long-term care facilities, require masks for all staff and prohibit visitors, in red and yellow.

▪ Government should increase messaging on the “risk of serious disease” for people in all age groups with “preexisting obesity, hypertension and diabetes mellitus,” and recommend those folks shelter in place. This guidance is for red and yellow.

▪ Surge testing and contact tracing resources should be directed at neighborhoods and zip codes with the highest infection rates, particularly in the Central and Southwest health districts. All “positive households” should be tested individually within 24 hours. The state should move to “community-led neighborhood testing” to increase access.

▪ Labs should use pooling of samples to “increase testing access and reduce turnaround times to under 12 hours” in red and yellow. For people who share a household, all samples should be pooled.

▪ Government should provide isolation facilities outside of households for patients who can’t isolate “successfully.”

Idaho’s red counties include Ada, Canyon, Kootenai, Bonneville, Minidoka, Payette, Cassia, Owyhee, Gem, Jefferson, Washington and Shoshone. There are two more, but the full list isn’t included in the report and it’s unclear which they are.

Idaho’s yellow counties are Twin Falls, Bannock, Jerome, Bingham, Elmore, Gooding, Latah, Teton, Valley, Benewah, Franklin, Clearwater, Lincoln, Power, Lemhi, Bear Lake and Adams.

Those lists cover 31 of Idaho’s 44 counties.