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Friday, August 14, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Coronavirus cases climb past 100 at Idaho prison; crowd protests Boise mask mandate

A sign outside the Moscow Food Co-op on Thursday  (Geoff Crimmins/Moscow-Pullman Daily News)
A sign outside the Moscow Food Co-op on Thursday (Geoff Crimmins/Moscow-Pullman Daily News)
By Nicole Foy and Jim Keyser Idaho Statesman

BOISE – The coronavirus pandemic is hitting Idaho’s prison system, but the good news is that most inmates who have tested positive are asymptomatic, Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt wrote in an online update.

Increased testing this week at the Idaho State Correctional Center in Kuna showed 103 new cases of COVID-19 out of 258 people in E block, where the prison’s first three cases were found, leading to a medical quarantine for that area. Tewalt’s post said that all 103 do not have symptoms of the illness. Nine of the 258 tests are still pending, he said, while 146 were negative.

In the prison’s H block, 342 individuals were tested and 92 of those tests have come back so far, Tewalt said. All were negative. The rest of those test results are pending.

The Idaho State Correctional Center houses more than 2,100 men. The number of positive COVID-19 cases there among inmates is now 119, with only 12 of those showing symptoms, according to Tewalt.

The prison also has seen several staff members get infected. Tewalt’s update indicated that two more employees, one in security and one in a nonsecurity position, tested positive, bringing the number of IDOC staff cases to 36.

Tewalt said that staff exposure has required over 100 staff members to quarantine, and many have been unable to get tested because they have no coronavirus symptoms. That has led IDOC to partner with Saltzer Health to conduct staff testing Thursday, he said.

Crowd protests Boise’s mask mandate

A crowd of people gathered outside Boise City Hall on Friday to protest a new city mandate requiring face coverings or masks in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Idaho, get back to work!” one man yelled into a megaphone a little after 1 p.m. “Open your businesses! Ignore mandatory masks! If you receive citations, fight them! Take back your freedoms, Idaho!”

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean announced the new requirement Thursday, having Boise join the Idaho cities of McCall, Moscow, Driggs and Hailey, which instituted similar mask mandates this week. Boise’s ordinance took effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Violators could face a fine of up to $1,000.

The protest, promoted by Health Freedom Idaho, ranged from 50 people to hundreds throughout Friday afternoon. Waving signs reading such things as “Where there is risk there must be choice,” attendees decried Boise’s order as a violation of personal freedom. Others present criticized Idaho Gov. Brad Little as well, with some collecting signatures for a petition to recall him.

One woman, Emily Wahl, said she’s not opposed to masks, but suffered panic attacks when she wore one. She said she’s been denied service in several stores when she didn’t wear one, because the businesses were mandating masks to protect people during a pandemic.

“I do not deserve to be treated like a pariah,” Wahl told the Statesman.

Nez Perce Tribe undergoes mass tests

The Nimiipuu Health Kamiah Clinic will be offering mass coronavirus testing on the Fourth of July after a probable exposure at the It’se Ye Ye Casino in Kamiah, the tribe announced late Thursday night.

Enrolled members of Nimiipuu Health and any employees of a Nez Perce Tribe entity will be eligible for the testing.

Testing for asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals will be done in a drive-thru format. Patients are asked to remain in their vehicles, and medical staff will perform swabbing. Turnaround time for results for asymptomatic individuals should be three to five days.

Symptomatic individuals will be tested with the “Abbott ID NOW” analyzer, which provides results in about 15 minutes. The analyzer has limited testing capacity, so not everyone will be tested with that machine.

Testing will run 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. based on the availability of test kits. For questions about testing, call NMPH at (208) 843-2271.

Idaho urges COVID-19 safety in the outdoors with new website

Idaho officials are urging residents and visitors to support local businesses and enjoy the outdoors safely – especially ahead of the holiday weekend.

A new website, recreate.idaho.gov, provides social distancing tips, safety tips and other COVID-19 guidance for people heading outdoors. As part of the “Recreate Responsibly Idaho” campaign, the Idaho Department of Lands, Idaho Fish and Game, Idaho Parks and Recreation, and other state agencies are asking visitors to make sure their outdoor activities don’t contribute to the spread of coronavirus.

Tips include planning trips in advance to avoid site closures and crowding that could contribute to virus spread, limiting group size, wearing a mask in congested areas, washing hands often and staying home when feeling ill.

“The most important thing we can do to rebound the economy is for people to do the right thing, so people have the confidence to get out,” Gov. Little said in a news release. “The better we do at controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus and keeping people safe, the more confidence people are going to have to participate in our economy.”

Idaho’s coronavirus cases continue to climb

Idaho reached 6,080 confirmed cases of the coronavirus Thursday evening, and the state’s positive testing rate keeps climbing alongside the daily numbers.

The state health department revealed that 9% of the COVID-19 tests were positive the week of June 21-27. That’s more than triple the weekly rate from two weeks earlier (2.7%) and a big increase from the previous week, when it was 6.7%.

The increase is likely not linked to increased testing capacity, as Idaho has conducted 10,000 to 12,000 tests four of the past five weeks, according to data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state conducted 11,511 tests last week, a slight dip from the 11,571 it administered June 14-20. Testing data for the current week is not yet available.

Southeastern Public Health District reported a new virus-related death in Bingham County, bringing the state’s total to 94.

Coronavirus cases have been reported in nearly all of Idaho’s counties: Ada, 2,223; Adams, 10; Bannock, 96; Bear Lake, 2; Benewah, 13; Bingham, 56; Blaine, 526; Boise, 4; Bonner, 33; Bonneville, 85; Boundary, 1; Camas, 1; Canyon, 898; Caribou, 14; Cassia, 224; Clearwater, 2; Custer, 5; Elmore, 60; Franklin, 24; Fremont, 6; Gem, 23; Gooding, 55; Idaho, 5; Jefferson, 13; Jerome, 211; Kootenai, 325; Latah, 21; Lemhi, 2; Lincoln, 32; Madison, 27; Minidoka, 176; Nez Perce, 85; Oneida, 4; Owyhee, 30; Payette, 94; Power, 16; Shoshone, 1; Teton, 19; Twin Falls, 546; Valley, 14; and Washington, 99.

Community spread has been detected in 33 counties: Ada, Bannock, Benewah, Bingham, Blaine, Bonner, Bonneville, Canyon, Caribou, Cassia, Clearwater, Custer, Elmore, Gem, Gooding, Idaho, Jefferson, Jerome, Kootenai, Lemhi, Lewis, Lincoln, Madison, Minidoka, Nez Perce, Owyhee, Oneida, Payette, Power, Teton, Twin Falls, Valley and Washington.

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