Gov. Brad Little has ordered all Idaho residents to remain at home except for necessary activities and directed all non-essential businesses to close for the next three weeks in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
With confirmed community transmission of coronavirus occurring in Idaho’s most populated area, the Treasure Valley, Little on Wednesday afternoon announced the 21-day stay-at-home order along with an "extreme emergency declaration" after receiving advice from public health experts. The governor made the announcement during a press conference at the Idaho Military Division State Headquarters at Gowen Field in Boise.
"Idaho is now in a new stage," Little said during the press conference. "With confirmed community transmission now occurring in Idaho's most densely populated areas ... I will be ordering a statewide stay-at-home order for the entire state of Idaho."
The extreme emergency declaration allows the state to more effectively increase health care capacity, take steps to reduce and slow coronavirus spread and take rapid and decisive steps to improve the condition of Idahoans whose jobs and incomes are being harmed by the pandemic.
While community spread has not been detected in East Idaho, which has only 11 confirmed COVID-19 infections as of Wednesday evening, public health officials believe the virus is much more widespread locally than what the numbers suggest.
Health officials have confirmed at least 123 cases of COVID-19 in Idaho after testing 2,188 people.
“We are seeing this virus now across our entire state and this has occurred in less than a two week time frame,” Southeastern Idaho Public Health Director Maggie Mann said Wednesday morning.
The governor’s stay-at-home order is not a full lockdown but demands that Idaho's 1.75 million residents self-isolate not just if they are sick, stop public gatherings of any number of people and cease public transit usage and discretionary travel. The order also directs all non-essential businesses to halt operations at physical locations, encourages employees to work from home and asks that people maintain at least 6 feet from non-immediate household members.
“Our healthcare and public safety workers are putting themselves in harm’s way to respond to the coronavirus emergency and we owe it to them to do our part by following this statewide stay-home order,” Little said.
Non-essential businesses that need to close as a result of the governor's order include bars, nightclubs, gyms and recreation facilities, entertainment venues, convention centers, hair and nail salons, and others not included in the “essential” category as defined in the order.
Essential establishments that can remain open so long as employees maintain 6 feet of separation from others, frequently wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and cover coughs and sneezes include:
- Health care operations such as hospitals, clinics, mental health providers, hospice providers, veterinarians, dentists and pharmacists;
- Essential infrastructure operations such as airports, utilities, public works providers, commercial construction companies, public transportation entities, solid waste collection companies, and internet and telecommunications services;
- Essential businesses and organizations such as grocery and convenience stores, farmers markets, food banks, pet supply stores, butcher shops, liquor stores, beer and wine distributors, farms and food processors, homeless shelters and other social service providers, newspapers and other media providers, television stations, auto repair and supply stores, hardware and gun stores, banks and credit unions, package and food deliverers, plumbers, electricians, exterminators, landscapers, educational institutions, laundromats and dry cleaners, hotels and motels, taxis and other private transportation providers, all Idaho National Laboratory facilities, childcare facilities, legal and accounting services, and emergency services such as police stations and fire houses;
- Restaurants can also remain open but can only offer drive-through, carry-out and delivery options.
“If your car breaks down and you can’t get to the grocery store, fixing that car is an essential service,” Little said.
Public and private events that are prohibited under Little's order include in-person fundraisers, church gatherings, sporting events, parades, concerts, festivals, conventions, weddings and all indoor funerals. The order exempts individuals experiencing homelessness but urges them to find shelter or contact a government agency that can help.
Though the order states violations could result in misdemeanor charges punishable by up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines, Little emphasized a "peer-pressure" approach to enforcing the stay-at-home order.
Chubbuck Police Chief Bill Guiberson said in a Wednesday afternoon news release that the Chubbuck Police Department will not issue citations or make arrests pertaining to Little's order.
"We view our role as one of education, and educating people on how to keep their family’s safe and more importantly to keep the community safe, especially the vulnerable and elderly," Guiberson said in the news release. "For the most part, Chubbuck residents have been doing their part and showing that they understand the seriousness of the situation we are all experiencing. I thank you all for your continued efforts to protect yourselves, your families and your neighbors."
Little said the Idaho National Guard has been readied to support civil authorities with commodity transportation and assist local jurisdictions during the current coronavirus emergency.
At Little's request, Idaho National Guardsmen are prepared to deploy a joint task force to provide mobile coronavirus testing support as well as facilities, tents or other equipment and to perform other duties as needed in Idaho’s coronavirus response effort. The Idaho Office of Emergency Management, a part of the Idaho Military Division, is the key emergency response planner and coordinator for interagency preparedness in Idaho and is heavily involved in the state's coronavirus response.
Little's order to shelter-in-place comes on the heels of public health officials confirming the first Ada County case of community spread of coronavirus on Tuesday night. Ada County is the Gem State’s most populous region with about 450,000 residents. It's also where the state's first confirmed coronavirus case occurred on March 13.
Public health officials define contagion transmission levels as community spread when a person contracts an illness — like COVID-19 — without any known contact with other infected persons and has not recently traveled to an area where the disease has any documented cases.
The Centers for Disease Control says various parts of the country are seeing different levels of COVID-19 activity as the country braces for the initiation phase of the pandemic.
“States (such as Idaho) in which community spread is occurring are in the acceleration phase,” the CDC said, meaning that the situation in Idaho could likely get worse before it gets better. “The duration and severity of each pandemic phase can vary depending on the characteristics of the virus and the public health response.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as a fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia and death.
Idaho has yet to report any COVID-19 related deaths.
Ada became the second Idaho county with confirmed community spread of the coronavirus.
Blaine was the first county in the state to achieve that designation last week. Little ordered all residents of Blaine County to self isolate on March 20 hours after public health officials revealed the coronavirus was spreading easily and sustainably there among persons with no known connections to other cases.
As of Wednesday morning, Blaine County had 47 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and Ada County had 24 confirmed cases, according to public health officials.
East Idaho had 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday evening — two each in Bannock, Madison, Jefferson and Teton counties and one each in Bingham, Jefferson and Custer counties.
But Mann said that for every confirmed COVID-19 infection public health experts estimate there are up to 10 unconfirmed positive cases.
“We know that for every confirmed case there are likely to be somewhere between five and 10 unconfirmed (positive) cases,” said Mann, “and that for every case they will spread the virus, unintentionally of course, to an average of 2.5 people.”
In talking about those reference points and what it could mean for East Idaho Mann added, “We know that even though day-to-day life seems pretty normal here right now and you probably don’t personally know someone who’s had a positive test at this point in time… we’re pretty confident that there is a higher level of disease in our area.”
To accommodate renters who are in a financial crisis as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Idaho Apartment Association is promoting rent deferment plans for the month of April 2020.
"We encourage all property managers to adopt programs that are appropriate for them," the association said in a Tuesday news release. "These plans allow renters to qualify for rent deferment by demonstrating that their financial status has been directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic."
Renters may demonstrate financial impact by evidencing exposure to the virus and the resulting quarantine requirements or via loss of hours or wages as a result of public health-related business closures related to the pandemic, the association said. When renters qualify, landlords and management companies may provide plans to defer a portion, or potentially all, of April’s rent payment to be paid at a later date.
Applications for unemployment insurance in Idaho are up 1,300 percent from just last week, according to a Tuesday Boise State Public Radio report.
Idaho Labor Department Director Jani Revier said she’s seeing a spike in unemployment claims and her staff is overwhelmed trying to answer everyone’s questions. Her advice to anyone facing a layoff who’s unsure if they qualify — “We encourage people to go ahead and apply, get that claim active and then we can work through those issues."
She also pointed to the FAQ page on labor.idaho.gov, which has the answers to most unemployment-related questions.
With every day of the virus pandemic spreading in Idaho there are more closures. The Lava Hot Springs Foundation announced on Wednesday morning that it has closed all of its mineral hot pools and aquatic facilities in Lava Hot Springs.
Also on Wednesday morning the city of Pocatello announced the closure of all of its park playgrounds and the extended closure of its Community Recreation Center.
Washington state and Oregon have also issued statewide stay-at-home orders in recent days.
“Given where we are in the biology of this disease, it’s important to do (the stay-at-home order) now to get the message out to all of Idaho,” Little said. “We absolutely have to have this take place.”
The statewide stay-at-home order is available online at coronavirus.idaho.gov.
Little said he and public health officials will evaluate later whether to extend the order past 21 days.
"Public safety is always our top priority," Little said. "My fellow Idahoans, we will get through this together, as long as we all play an active part in fighting the spread of coronavirus."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.