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Idaho governor issues 3-week stay-home order; Kootenai County confirms 9th COVID-19 case

The playground at Sorensen Magnet School of Arts & Humanities in Coeur d’Alene is wrapped in police tape to keep children off during the school closure in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Idaho Gov. Brad Little ordered residents statewide to stay in their homes unless they have an essential reason to leave for at least three weeks Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Kootenai County confirmed one new case of COVID-19 for a total of nine local cases.

“Idaho’s situation with coronavirus is changing rapidly,” Little said during a news conference. “Idaho now is in a new stage, with confirmed community transmission now occurring in Idaho’s most densely populated areas.”

Little noted the state has been preparing since January for the coronavirus pandemic and that he issued an emergency declaration to boost funding for the response before Idaho had confirmed a case.

Idaho had more than 130 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday evening, according to local health districts. More than 60 of those cases were in Blaine County, where residents had already been ordered to stay in their homes to prevent community transmission of the disease. Another 39 cases were in Ada County, where Boise is the county seat.

In North Idaho, Shoshone, Benewah, Bonner and Boundary counties did not have confirmed cases as of Wednesday afternoon.

Eight of the infected people in Kootenai County appeared to have transmitted the disease through travel outside of North Idaho, according to the the Panhandle Health District. One of the cases is believed to be from community transmission because the person did not have travel history or contact with a confirmed case.

The new Kootenai County patient is in his 40s and self-isolating at home, according to the health district. Officials are working to determine who may have come into contact with the man while contagious, and all household members of people confirmed to have the disease have been asked to isolate themselves at home.

None of the Kootenai County patients had been hospitalized as of Wednesday afternoon.

Little’s stay-home order included mandates that restaurants statewide only provide takeout and delivery services and that all nonessential businesses close unless they can allow employees to work remotely. Little also signed a more extreme emergency declaration to allow the state to increase health care capacity and improve conditions for residents whose incomes are affected by the pandemic.

For two weeks, Little had resisted closing businesses and schools statewide, citing the advice of state health experts. He left decisions about forced closures up to local officials instead while advising people to adhere to strict social distancing guidelines.

Coeur d’Alene Public decided to close starting March 16 through April when North Idaho had no confirmed cases and numbers continued to rise in the southern part of the state and Spokane.

Last Thursday, officials in south-central Idaho said Blaine County was experiencing community spread when it reported 16 cases, including two health care workers. State officials then ordered residents not to leave their homes unless they had a vital reason to do so.

Early this week, government officials in Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Hayden, Rathdrum, Spirit Lake, Hayden Lake, Hauser, Huetter and Athol began ordering all bars and dine-in restaurants to close to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. The state board of education ordered all public schools that hadn’t done so already to close until at least April 20 on Monday.

Little said Wednesday the Idaho National Guard could be activated to provide mobile testing support, transport supplies and provide facilities and equipment to support the state’s coronavirus response.

“My fellow Idahoans, we will get through this together as long as we all play an active part of fighting the spread of coronavirus,” Little said.