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Idaho Gov. Little keeps state in Stage 4 again, discusses vaccine; many metrics failed

Coronavirus

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — With the average daily coronavirus caseload going up and hospital numbers painting an unpleasant picture, Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that Idaho once again will remain in Stage 4 of the state’s pandemic reopening plan — the eighth time the state has fallen short of advancing.

Little’s announcement came as Idaho’s seven-day moving average of new confirmed cases reached 485.4 on Wednesday night — after more than 500 confirmed cases were added in the daily total. The average has increased for 15 straight days. Multiple schools requested testing to help keep outbreaks at bay, and cities and towns that are home to colleges have reported spikes in cases.

The criteria for moving out of Stage 4 includes looking at intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, which recent data show are not decreasing fast enough in Idaho. The criteria states Idaho must have “less than 25 ICU admissions per day on average over the prior 14-day period.”

For Sept. 16-29, Idaho had an average of 42.2 COVID-19 patients in ICU per day.

Among the metrics, one that caused the state to remain in Stage 4 was daily hospital submissions. The state’s goal of averaging eight per day was not met, with the average being well above 20 over the past week.

Little said Thursday that the state failed to meet its marks on desired metrics for new reported cases and percentage of positive tests as well.

Little also discussed how state officials are already taking steps to plan for the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine once it is made widely available.

“Here in Idaho, we have been planning for months for the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and we will remain focused on making sure Idaho is ready when the initial supply becomes available,” Little said.

Little said he will advise the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to convene a new vaccine advisory committee to provide direction once vaccines are first available.

Ada County is the only county to remain in Stage 3, per the order of Central District Health. But the county has reopened bars, with precautions in place. Large events and gatherings are still prohibited, and masks are mandated.

Multiple counties and cities — including Idaho Falls, Rexburg and Driggs — have mask mandates in place, while in some places they are only “recommended.” Little has repeatedly declined to implement a statewide mask mandate.

The number of coronavirus cases in the Magic Valley region doubled over the past four weeks, South Central Public Health District officials announced Tuesday. In the last week of August, the eight-county health district based in Twin Falls reported 187 new coronavirus cases. Last week, the district reported 471 new cases.

Idaho had recorded 469 deaths due to COVID-19 as of Wednesday night and 38,415 confirmed cases since the virus reached Idaho.

Idaho state inmates, housed in Idaho Department of Correction prisons or at contracted prisons in Texas and Arizona, had seen more than 1,800 infections as of Tuesday. Most of the inmates are reported to have recovered, but two died.

Multiple jails, including those Bonneville, Bingham and Bannock counties, have also seen outbreaks.

Most jails, prisons and long-term care facilities still have restrictions on visitation.

SCHOOLS IN A PANDEMIC

During the Wednesday press conference, Little announced that Idaho schools will receive 530,000 rapid antigen tests to be distributed, with the tests being delivered to the state within the next three months. A shipmet of 35,000 tests were shipped Thursday to Idaho, Little said.

Different schools have started classes at different rates — some with in-person learning, some in phases with hybrid schedules and some all online. Many, however, have slowly but surely had to fight off cases.

Before school started, Little made it clear that he wanted to see all Idaho schools open as soon as possible for in-person learning.

Some schools have struggled with testing, and in Emmett, at least 134 students could be in quarantine for two weeks, that district reported Tuesday.

Boise State University and the University of Idaho have reported outbreaks in the student population and temporary closures on different parts of their campuses. BYU-Idaho in Rexburg said it might have to shut down campus.

ECONOMIC RECOVERY

As of Wednesday, few businesses were still forced to be closed because of the pandemic, although requirements to open limit how many customers many places can have at one time.

Idaho’s unemployment claims have decreased in recent weeks, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. The four-week moving average for continued claims fell 9%, from 12,416 for the week ending Sept. 19 to 11,284 for the week ending Sept. 26.

The department reportedly paid out $7.1 million in unemployment benefits the week ending Sept. 26, down from $7.8 million for the week ending Sept. 19.

Total benefit payments to laid-off Idahoans attributed to COVID-19 reached $876 million. Regular state unemployment insurance benefits made up $200 million of the total, according to the Department of Labor.

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