BOISE — For the ninth consecutive time, Idaho will stay in Stage 4 of its four-stage reopening plan for at least another two weeks, Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday.
“Idaho will continue to evaluate metrics every two weeks to determine if the state will move out of Stage 4,” the governor said.
He called on Idahoans to continue to take precautions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“Our personal actions work better to slow the spread of coronavirus than anything else,” he said. “Our personal actions are free of cost and a minor sacrifice relative to the rewards.”
“This is about personal responsibility, something Idaho is all about,” Little said. “Wear a mask. Watch your distance from others. Wash your hands. Do these things so our kids can stay in school, our loved ones stay safe, and our economy can continue to prosper.”
On Wednesday, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported there were 645 new cases across the state, bringing the state total to 49,892 since March.
“We are seeing case numbers increase in Idaho and across the country,” Little said.
State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said in cases per 100,000, Idaho ranks high compared to the rest of the nation.
“Here is where we sit now in Idaho,” she said, displaying a national map showing the highest rates concentrated in the central part of the country, but including Idaho. “We are seventh highest risk level if you look at the state as a whole.”
“That changes every day,” Hahn said. “We had to update it today — we were sixth on Monday.”
She said the daily data is on the website “Pandemics Explained,” operated by the Harvard Health Institute and endorsed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Within the state, southeastern Idaho counties are getting hit the hardest, she said. Those aged 18-29 have by far the highest rate of infection right now, she said.
“We’re just seeing across the board the greatest rise in that age group,” Hahn said.
The governor said hospitals in East Idaho are experiencing high numbers of hospitalizations for COVID-19, straining their resources.
Hahn said hospitalization data was the biggest concern among the metrics that Idaho lays out in its staged reopening plan, and it’s an area “where we’re struggling.”
New hospital admissions for COVID-19 must be lower than eight per day to move on in the stages, she said. “We are well above that, and the numbers are rising.”
Also, the metrics state that the total number in intensive care for COVID-19 treatment shouldn’t be greater than 25 per day. “We are well over that,” Hahn said, “over 50.”
“Until we see these numbers improving, we don’t feel that we can move out of Stage 4,” she said. “These folks are the ones that are getting the brunt of it.”
The CEO of Portneuf Medical Center in East Idaho, Jordan Herget, said, “Some of our patients are very sick.” His hospital’s ICU has been running between 65 and 85 percent of capacity, he said.
The most recent statewide figures, from Oct. 12, showed 219 Idahoans hospitalized for COVID-19 and 56 in the ICU, Hahn said.
Asked why the state hasn’t moved to impose quarantines, travel limitations or other methods to tamp down on the spread of the virus, given its continued and increased spread, Little said, “I would say that a lot of the recommendations are working. We’ve got multiple cities where there are mask ordinances, we’ve got multiple health districts, we’ve got multiple school districts where that is working.”
He also noted that businesses in Idaho increasingly are mandating masks and other preventive measures.
“It’s just good business practices,” he said.
The governor also urged anyone who’s worried or who has an underlying health condition, or a family member at risk, to request an absentee ballot rather than voting in-person on Nov. 3.
“That will keep us from having a super-spreader event on election day,” he said.
Idaho Press reporter Ashley Miller contributed to this report.