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Governor will keep Idaho in Stage 4 for a fifth time as it grapples with COVID-19 impact

Coronavirus

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that the state will stay in Stage 4 of his reopening plan for the fifth time.

New cases of coronavirus are continuing to climb, especially in the Treasure Valley, and hospitals have repeatedly expressed concern about the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, even though the number of new cases has decreased slightly from where they were in July.

Little said that Idaho is in a much different place than it was in March, with more parents having returned to work.

“We have increased our capacity for testing, contact tracing, and PPE for health care workers and businesses,” he said.

On Wednesday, the state’s seven health districts reported 430 new confirmed cases of the virus, bringing the statewide count up to 21,354 cases since the pandemic reached Idaho.

Despite increasing numbers of cases, Little said that as of now, Idaho has sufficient health care workers, PPE, ventilators and intensive care beds at hospitals.

Little’s announcement Thursday follows the White House coronavirus task force’s report that said Idaho was in the “red zone” for infections, and cited a list of recommendations that the state has not ordered.

Little’s plan, Idaho Rebounds, does not include the recommendations that the federal task force outlines. The task force recommended, 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).

Central District Health, which has jurisdiction over Ada, Valley, Boise and Elmore counties, is set to discuss some of these recommendations at its next meeting on Tuesday. It moved Ada County back to Stage 3 last month.

The number of infected health care workers continues to climb in Idaho, raising alarm to public health officials about whether they can appropriately staff hospitals if outbreaks continue.

During the current 14-day window, 364 infected health care workers have been added to the state’s total. That’s 26 per day. On Tuesday alone, 40 new health-care worker infections were added to the list that Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports.

Health and Welfare reports that there have been 931 hospitalizations because of the coronavirus and 262 admissions to the ICU since the pandemic began. The state was reporting, as of Wednesday that about 11.1% of people tested are found to have the virus. The state’s goal was to get that rate below 5%.

LITTLE AGAIN PUSHES FOR SCHOOLS TO OPEN IN THE FALL

Schools reopening this month has been a concern for educators and parents statewide. While the public health districts have offered recommendations, the ultimate decision on reopening was left to the school districts.

During the press conference Thursday, Little reiterated his goal to get Idaho students back in classrooms this fall. He announced that more money would be diverted to schools to help the “digital divide” and equip schools with computers, internet capabilities and means for remote learning. More money also will go toward additional personal protective equipment, as well as more money to increase lab turnaround time for testing teachers and school staff.

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