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Gov. Little moves into stage 1 of his Rebound Idaho plan to reopen state

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — With nearly 2,000 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Idaho, Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that the state will move forward with the first stage of its plan to reopen some businesses, including retail.
Little’s four-stage plan was announced last week, and on Friday, Idahoans will enter stage one.
The plan, called Idaho Rebounds, aligns with federal recommendations, requiring the state to meet certain public health criteria before reopening. The dates are estimated timelines and are subject to change based on new outbreaks.
Almost all retail stores and houses of worship will open in the first stage, which will be from May 1-15. Restaurants and hair salons would open in the second stage, May 16-29. Gatherings of up to 50 people would be allowed in the third, May 30-June 12. Bars would reopen in the fourth, June 13-26.
The plan to reopen the state’s economy comes after Little’s stay-home order, which he put in place March 25 and then extended through April 30.
Little said he will issue an order Thursday that is enforceable for stage one. It was not immediately clear what the punishment would be for violators of the order.
When asked about what happens if the local municipalities don’t enforce the order, Little did not have a direct answer. He said he has spoken with the mayors and is “hopeful” people will do the right thing.
During the Thursday press conference, multiple reporters questioned Little about the language in the state guidelines, using language like “encourages” rather than “mandates” businesses to comply. Little continued to stress that he believes Idahoans and businesses are self-motivated to keep people safe.
Little said he was confident that Idaho could move into stage one because he believed the state had appropriate health care capacity. He prioritizes maintaining that capacity.
“Being overrun in health care capacity is not a good place to be,” said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen. “That is something that stays on my mind often.”
In stage one of Little’s plan, public and private gatherings should still be avoided. Non-essential travel should be minimized. People should still wear cloth masks and practice social distancing in public. Bars, restaurant dining rooms, large venues, hair salons, and indoor gyms should stay closed.
Non-essential businesses should implement plans for reopening to demonstrate owners can comply with safety protocols.
Day cares and organized youth events may reopen.
People who are considered high-risk should still stay home. High-risk people include those over the age of 65 and people with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, asthma, diabetes and immune disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a full list of people who are at a higher-risk for severe illness or death if they contract coronavirus.
Visits to senior living facilities and congregate facilities, including jails and prisons, should still be avoided in stage one.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s data and data from public health districts is updated daily. Some of the key takeaways are that coronavirus has been confirmed in 33 of Idaho’s 44 counties and while the rate of new infections has slowed, it certainly hasn’t stopped.
Idaho has community spread in 17 counties: Ada, Bannock, Bingham, Blaine, Bonneville, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Jefferson, Jerome, Kootenai, Lemhi, Owyhee, Madison, Payette, Teton and Twin Falls.
Some counties do not have adequate testing, and Idaho must meet certain criteria before the state can move through all four stages of Little’s plan.
There must be a downward trend or low numbers of COVID-19-like illness patient visits, as tracked by emergency departments, in a 14-day period and a downward trend in new coronavirus cases.
Hospitals must be able to treat all patients without using crisis care plans, and health care providers must have an adequate supply of equipment.
Little’s plan outlines a variety of precautions that should be taken for the places of worship, day cares and youth organizations that may reopen in stage one.
At places of worship, people are encouraged to wear masks or face coverings and try to remain seated at least 6 feet apart. Leaders are encouraged to put up signage and direct the flow of traffic to avoid bumping into each other. Worshipers should avoid hand shaking, hugging or any other physical contact.
Leaders are also encouraged to consider altering the service for now to minimize contact. This would include things like considering avoiding a communal donation basket and instead mailing in donations or taking online donations. In some services, they could consider avoiding communion or sharing a wine glass.
Youth organizations that may reopen should practice good hygiene habits and consider minimizing the number of participants. Anyone who is sick or has COVID-19 symptoms should not attend.
Parents and guardians should minimize carpooling and try to keep activities local. Organizers should try to prevent children from sharing cups or utensils. Limiting the number of spectators watching activities or games is also encouraged.
Daycares should consider staggering drop-off and pick-up times and walking children to cars, rather than bringing guardians into the building. Leaders should cancel or postpone any special events that may bring a crowd. Day care leaders should also consider keeping groups of children together, rather than letting them mix together. The state also recommends trying to keep the children of health care workers or first responders together, rather than mixing them in with a large group of children.
With Idahoans eager to reopen businesses and get back to normal, some businesses question if it’s necessary to wait through all of the governor’s stages.
According to the Idaho Department of Labor, about 1 in 7 members of Idaho’s workforce are now without employment income. Initial unemployment claims filed remained elevated in the week ending April 18, with 13,023 claims filed.
That marked a 30% decline from the previous week, but 12 times greater than all of 2019’s average, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. A total of 108,984 claims were filed in the first five weeks since Idaho’s state of emergency was declared.
On the local level, Nampa Mayor Debbie Kling already publicly said she will not criminally cite businesses that choose to open, instead she hopes to educate them. After her announcement, the Firehouse Sports Pub’s owner said it plans to reopen May 1.
Slick’s Bar, in Nampa, also announced its plan to reopen before the governor’s stay-home order expired.
In more rural areas of Canyon County, some businesses have openly defied the governor’s order. The Middleton Fitness Center, owned by Jonathan Eldredge, reopened his gym in defiance of the governor’s order.
Gyms and bars are supposed to remain closed until stage four of the plan.
Little has received push back from Idahoans who have protested orders of any kind, questioning the legality of his actions, including comments from the state’s lieutenant governor.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin spoke virtually at a protest in Rexburg on Saturday, alongside Sugar City Mayor Steve Adams, Rigby Mayor Jason Richardson and Dr. Jim Brook, according to
McGeachin, who owns The Celt Pub and Grill in Idaho Falls, said people need to ask Little to eliminate the stay-home order. She said she hoped to “eliminate some concerning language” about which businesses are essential.
“Is it because we, as a society, have not dug down deep enough to truly understand what these guidelines are, and that these are simply guidelines offered by our federal government and not intended to be mandatory?” McGeachin said Saturday.
Criticism of Little’s order has come from a variety of lawmakers, as well as some conservative political groups including the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which organized a protest April 17.

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