POCATELLO — Southeastern Idaho Public Health has been flooded lately with tips from people about local businesses that aren’t following Gov. Brad Little’s recent order to shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.
In response to the reports, Southeastern Idaho Public Health Director Maggie Mann has had her staff call dozens of business owners, urging them to do their part to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
Mann is growing increasingly concerned that many in the public and the business community don’t fully comprehend the gravity of the health crisis and aren’t taking it seriously enough. She warns there could be deadly consequences if attitudes don’t change.
As of Saturday afternoon, the virus had killed four Idahoans — two in Blaine County, one in Canyon County and one in Nez Perce County. More than 230 Idahoans have contracted the virus, including 13 in East Idaho.
The order issued by Little last week also requires Idahoans to stay home and limit discretionary travel, maintaining at least 6 feet of space from others when they go outside to walk, run or bike ride.
The governor exempted all businesses and entities that offer essential services from closing. Examples of essential services include grocery stores, health care providers, public infrastructure-related businesses, auto repair businesses, media, financial services, transportation providers, laundromats, legal and accounting establishments, emergency services, social services, internet providers, childcare services, hardware stores, gun shops, alcohol distribution businesses, plumbers, exterminators, landscaping businesses, electricians and education-related entities. Restaurants can remain open for takeout and delivery only.
Several people have already called Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s coronavirus hotline, 208-234-5875, to report local businesses that have turned a deaf ear to the governor’s order.
“Those businesses once we talk with them are cooperating,” Mann said. “This is serious and we need to all do our part to protect our community. While we would prefer not to have to take formal action, we are working with local law enforcement. If a business chooses to ignore the order, we will work cooperatively to take formal action.”
Little said that anyone violating his order can be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. But it appears that the filing of such criminal charges is being viewed as a last resort by local authorities.
Mann also advises the public to adhere to the spirit of the governor’s order rather than just the letter of it. Just because people are allowed to go to a grocery store doesn’t mean a trip is necessary, for example.
“People really need to think before they go out to make a purchase, ‘Is this something I really need now or is it something that can wait?’” Mann said.
Mann emphasized resources are available to help business owners survive the coronavirus pandemic, and she’s posted key information at https://www.siphidaho.org/. She’s been appreciative of support from the Pocatello-Chubbuck Chamber of Commerce and Old Town Pocatello Inc.
Mann said by following the governor’s order and adhering to common-sense practices such as washing hands regularly, maintaining 6 feet of space from others, covering when coughing and staying home when sick, the community will hopefully be able to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 transmission. She fears the worst-case scenario would stress and overwhelm our local medical infrastructure.
“We all need to follow these recommendations,” Mann said. “It’s a temporary situation and the better job we do of following the recommendations consistently, the less time we’re going to need that isolation order in place.”
Mann added that the state is in the process of reevaluating its standards of medical care to make them more flexible during the crisis.
“All of our community is working together to figure out how do we handle the worst-case scenario,” Mann said.
She explained a team is seeking to identify local alternate care sites away from hospitals to assist people who may become infected and need treatment but not intensive care.
“Hospitals ideally would handle the sickest patients because they’re the best prepared,” Mann said.
If someone in a household becomes sick but does not require medical treatment, Southeastern Idaho Public Health recommends keeping them in a single room, using a single bathroom, with other family members avoiding contact with them as much as possible. Mann said households should be stepping up cleaning efforts by regularly wiping handrails, doorknobs and other surfaces with disinfectant.
“By following all of those recommendations we are doing what we can to protect the most vulnerable among us,” Mann said. “It’s our parents, grandparents, neighbors over 60 and people who have those underlying health conditions. We have a responsibility to keep them safe.”