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News >  Idaho

Idaho governor taps disaster account for $39M; Nez Perce County reports 1st COVID-19 death, Kootenai confirms 11th case

UPDATED: Fri., March 27, 2020

Live For Blu gallery and wine bar in Coeur d'Alene is closed on Monday, March 23, 2020. Bars and restaurants are now closed in most of North Idaho due to COVID-19. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Live For Blu gallery and wine bar in Coeur d'Alene is closed on Monday, March 23, 2020. Bars and restaurants are now closed in most of North Idaho due to COVID-19. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed an executive order Friday to use $39.3 million from the state’s Disaster Emergency Account for its COVID-19 response.

Nez Perce County later reported its first death due to COVID-19 – the fourth statewide – in a person in their 80s with age-related health issues, according to Idaho North Central District public health agency. The person had been diagnosed with the disease before they died.

Kootenai County now has 16 confirmed COVID-19 cases, while the other four northern counties – Shoshone, Benewah, Bonner and Boundary – have no confirmed cases, according to the Panhandle Health District. Directly to the south, the North Central District reported no cases in Latah and Clearwater counties but four in Nez Perce County and one in Idaho County.

The new Kootenai County cases are self-isolating at home, according to the Panhandle Health District. No infected Kootenai County individuals had been hospitalized as of Friday.

Of Kootenai County’s 16 cases, 11 have been linked back to travel either out of the state or out of the country, according to Panhandle Health District public information officer Katherine Hoyer. Officials are still working to determine how five people contracted the virus.

“We’re continuing to do contact tracing with our confirmed cases,” Hoyer said. “If we do have community transmission we will certainly let the public know.”

Hoyer said more Kootenai County residents have been tested than the other four northern counties due to population size, but people in the outer counties have driven to Kootenai Health for testing. Bonner General Health also has performed testing and the health district has clinics in all five counties, Hoyer said.

People with potential COVID-19 symptoms, such as dry cough, fever and shortness of breath, can call the Panhandle Health District at (877) 415-5225 to be screened over the telephone. The health district would then inform that person whether they should seek out testing.

Because both the state lab and private labs are testing samples for COVID-19, the Panhandle Health District no longer has detailed counts of how many people have been tested locally, Hoyer said. But more than 1,200 people statewide had been tested through the state lab and close to 1,600 were tested through private laboratories as of Thursday.

In line with Little’s three-week stay-home order issued Wednesday, the Panhandle Health District is urging people to stay home except for essential trips.

“We know how to slow the spread of this virus, but it takes everyone taking those actions to make a difference,” Hoyer said.

Little’s executive order made funding available to make necessary purchases to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including personal protective equipment, ventilators, rapid test kits, lab supplies and hospital beds, according to a statement. Another executive order signed Friday reduced the state’s non-COVID-19-related general fund spending this year by 1%, saving about $40 million.

Idaho – which reported 230 cases statewide on Friday – also expects to receive at least $1.25 billion from Congress’ $2 trillion relief package, which was passed Friday, according to a statement from Little’s office. There also will be targeted support in the form of checks to individual adults, loans for businesses and funding stabilization for school districts and higher education.

Little said those federal funds likely will cover the state’s COVID-19 expenses, but his executive order ensures Idaho won’t have to wait to make those purchases, according to a statement.

In light of Idaho’s new 13,341 unemployment claims – a jump of 12,310 from last week – Little also put into place new provisions to support unemployed workers. They include waiving a one-week waiting period, making it easier to to be considered job-attached if laid off due to COVID-19 and considering claimants available for work if they are isolated at the request of a medical professional, employer or health district.

For employers, Little’s proclamation ensures no quarterly unemployment taxes related to COVID-19 layoffs and, like workers, an additional two weeks to appeal claims decisions.

“I am sure everyone saw the news yesterday that Idaho had its first deaths resulting from coronavirus,” Little said in a statement. “Our prayers are with the families and loved ones of those who passed. This is a sad reminder that coronavirus can be extremely harmful or deadly to many, and we all must take personal responsibility and do everything we can to prevent the spread of coronavirus to others. Most importantly, people must stay home as much as possible for the next three weeks.”

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