BOISE – Idaho can move to the fourth and final stage of his plan to return to regular activity during the coronavirus pandemic despite a bump in infections, including among healthcare workers, Gov. Brad Little said Thursday.
“We made it, but we’re not spiking the football,” Little said, emphasizing residents should continue wearing face coverings in public and take other measures to ensure the economy can continue recovering without a return to more restrictions.
The Republican governor said Stage 3 restrictions will be lifted Saturday, allowing gatherings of more than 50 people as long as precautions are taken. Employers can resume unrestricted staffing but should protect workers with physical distancing measures.
Visits to senior living facilities can resume, but physical distancing and good hygiene should be practiced, he said. The state plans to release specific protocols for senior living facilities, which have accounted for most of the coronavirus deaths in Idaho.
All businesses can open, Little said, though physical distancing will be needed.
Little on March 25 issued a stay-home order for the state’s 1.75 million residents. Idaho’s economy began shutting down with some 130,000 unemployment claims filed over the next eight weeks.
The plan for reopening through four stages at roughly two-week intervals is based on infection rates and testing. The readiness of the health care system is another factor, including available ventilators and beds in intensive care units.
Little said that all those factors are being met, though it was close on new infections and infections of health care workers. State epidemiologist Christine Hahn said the infections among health care workers appeared to be not happening on the job, but in their homes from other family members or elsewhere.
Hospital beds in intensive care units also dipped, but state officials said that was due to more surgeries being performed and not because of severe coronavirus cases in which patients had trouble breathing.
If infections were to spike or other criteria weren’t meant, Little said the state could be forced back into more restrictions. He said community spread has occurred in more than half of the state’s 44 counties. Community spread means it’s not clear where a person became infected.
Health officials say the state’s testing ability has jumped to 10,000 people a day and could hit 20,000 if needed. Officials also said the ability to do contact tracing, a voluntary program for those contacted, has increased significantly.
Stage 4 is scheduled to end on June 26. The state has set up protocols for what will be allowed after that, though until a vaccine for the virus is found physical distancing and face coverings would likely remain.
Idaho has 3,260 confirmed cases of the virus that have caused 85 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death for some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.
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