Boise and Ada County will move back into Stage 3 of Idaho’s original reopening process Wednesday, Central District Health announced Monday afternoon.
Bars will be closed, CDH said.
Bars initially weren’t part of Stage 3, but Gov. Brad Little moved them there statewide as the reopening process proceeded. Bars must close as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday when the order takes effect, CDH announced.
There is no specific timeline for Ada County to return to Stage 4, which began June 13. Metrics that will be tracked include new cases and emergency room visits with COVID-19-like illnesses, with CDH looking for a “steady and sustained decline,” Director Russ Duke said.
“This is not a decision that has been taken lightly, but we feel it is absolutely necessary and the time is right now,” Duke said. “We recognize the impact this pandemic is having on our communities. Because you can’t see the virus, it’s easy to become complacent.”
CDH considered requiring face coverings in Ada County, Duke said. Face coverings for close contact are “absolutely essential,” he said.
“Right now, we are going to rely on voluntary compliance – wear face coverings when individuals are out in public – but it may come to that at some point,” Duke said.
Central District Health’s press conference announcement put the total cases in Ada County at 1,256 – 90 more than the last report on Saturday. That includes confirmed and probable cases.
The county recorded a single-day record of 68 confirmed new cases Saturday and 250 for the week (Monday-Saturday).
Of the last 323 coronavirus cases reported in Ada County, 265 were Boise residents (82%).
In Ada County, one infected person is expected to lead to seven more cases versus a typical number early in the pandemic of 2.5, according to Dr. Ted Epperly, a Board of Health member for CDH. The outbreak is being driven by 18-to-29-year-olds – and up to one-third of them won’t show symptoms, Epperly said.
Hospital capacity remains “OK” in Ada County, Duke said. Ada County reported its 22nd and most recent coronavirus-related death May 14. However, the death rate in people 80 and older with coronavirus is about 30%, Duke said.
Idaho is in Stage 4 of the reopening, scheduled to end Friday. The state faces some hurdles to exit the reopening process. Little is scheduled to address the reopening status on Thursday.
As Ada County returns to Stage 3, key stipulations include the following:
• Bars will be closed.
• Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited.
• A 14-day self-quarantine is encouraged for people entering Idaho from another country or an area outside of Idaho with substantial community spread or case rates higher than Idaho.
• Employers should encourage remote work when feasible.
• Visits to senior living facilities and congregate facilities (jails, for example) are prohibited.
• Large venues will be closed.
• Restaurants can continue dine-in service, but bar tops will need to close.
• Movie theaters can remain open.
The Board of Health for Central District Health, which covers Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties, met Saturday and decided it needed to increase restrictions, Duke said. The official order was to be released later Monday, he said.
Epperly said emergency room visits are increasing and Primary Health has reported positivity rates on COVID-19 tests of 15% to 22% in the past 10 days – up from about 5%.
“That puts us really in a positivity rate that approaches that of Blaine County, which you all know was the epicenter and the highest county (for infections per capita) in the entire United States at one point in the outbreak,” Epperly said. “That’s why this is a problem. And in fact, I just want to amplify for just a minute, this is more than just a bars and nightclubs issue. This is a communitywide active spread. And that’s why these steps are being taken.”
Downtown Boise bar owners met with CDH last week and agreed to a series of safety protocols, including encouraging masks, to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. They issued a press release Monday expressing their displeasure with the CDH decision.
“This is a direct attack on the bars,” Jason Kovac, who owns Silly Birch, Whiskey Bar and Tom Grainey’s, said in the news release. “We followed all the protocols and guidance CDH set. We asked patrons to wear masks, some required them, we had hand sanitizer and our bars were so empty that all social distancing requirements were exceeded. Now, without any warning, we’re being told we have to shut down again. We have been blindsided.”
Rocci Johnson, co-owner of Humpin’ Hannah’s, said in the release that she thought bar owners and CDH were “on the same page” after the meeting.
“We could continue to follow their recommendations and go above and beyond to keep our establishments safe and healthy,” she said. “We believe we acted in good faith, but that is certainly not being reciprocated when we have received no communication with anyone at CDH that this was going to happen.”
Ted Challenger, owner of StrangeLove, Amsterdam Lounge and Dirty Little Roddy’s, said that after hearing the announcement was coming, he decided to close his bars until Sept. 1.
“I’m sick of it,” he said. “We kept gearing up, hiring people, then we’re closing down, then we’re doing half (capacity). … We can’t get going, and it’s just hurt us more financially.”
Challenger thinks the state should provide financial aid to bar owners, he said.
“I’m shocked that our governor has not acted to fund bars to stay closed when there’s only 800 in the state,” Challenger said, “but he’d rather pay employees to go back to work. We need funding. Our concert industry, our sports event industry – we need funding.
“You’re asking us to stay shut down to help the public get through this pandemic. Yet there’s no funding to help us save our industry and all the jobs. It seems like a slap in the face to see people get paid ($1,500) to go back to work, and you’re asking us to stay closed half a year.”
Central District Health said bar patrons sparked the Ada County outbreak – but through no fault of the businesses.
“The cause of the uptick in our cases was for sure related to individuals who were infectious who were in the downtown Boise area and socializing with large crowds,” Duke said.
CDH says the outbreak started June 5-6 in the downtown Boise social scene with infectious people spreading the virus but has expanded into the community at large.
With symptoms developing over two to 14 days, Epperly said, the severity of the outbreak might not be known for a couple weeks.
“We need to put, right now, the emergency rooms and hospitals on alert for increased caseloads that will come through the emergency room, into our hospitals and potentially into our ICUs,” Epperly said.
“… The problem with COVID-19, because it’s so infectious, is that you can get behind the eight ball on this really fast, and what the data is saying right now at this point is we’re behind the eight ball.”
Duke said he’s noticed residents taking fewer precautions in recent weeks, particularly with wearing face coverings.
The keys, CDH leaders said, are the same ones public health officials have emphasized throughout the pandemic: social distancing (at least 6 feet of space between you and people outside your household), good and frequent hand washing and wearing masks inside public spaces and during close contacts.
“The greatest predictor of how we’re going to do moving forward is public compliance,” Epperly said. “… It’s the only tool we have to bring this under some measure of control.
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