During a press conference on Friday, Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced that Idaho would return to stage two of its reopening plan, with modifications, as daily case rates continue to increase statewide.

“We are in the middle of an unprecedented and dangerous time in our state’s history,” said Little. “With every day that passes, we are breaking records for the number of COVID deaths , the overall number of hospitalizations and the number of new cases in communities all across our state. 749 of our fellow Idahoans have died from this aggressive disease, leaving a hole in the hearts of those who love them.”

Little noted that approximately 40% of hospitalizations for COVID-19 statewide were ages 50-59 or younger.

Following are protocols to be observed in this modified stage two.

• Gathering sizes are limited to 10 people or fewer, with exceptions for religious or political gatherings 

• Patrons of restaurants, bars and nightclubs are to remain seated when patronizing these facilities, with the exception of entering, exiting or using restroom facilities

• Masks remain required at long-term care facilities

• At-risk Idahoans should self-isolate

• All Idahoans are encouraged to telework whenever business operations allow as such

The modified stage means no businesses or churches will be required to close at this time, according to Little. He also stressed the importance of keeping students in class for in-person instruction as much as possible.

During the conference, Little announced he would also sign an executive order mobilizing 100 guardsmen of the Idaho National Guard to expand Idaho’s capacity to treat COVID-19 patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Gen. Michael Garshak, Commanding General of the Idaho National Guard, said the guard would launch a COVID-response task force respond to Little’s executive order.

“The Idaho National Guard, part of the Idaho military division, is prepared to provide a host of capabilities, to include mobile testing support, facility decontamination or COVID screening, in addition to our ongoing planning and logistics support,” said Garshak. “Examples of our support to Idaho’s COVID response include warehouse and logistical operations at several food banks across Idaho, and as personal protective equipment has arrived in state from the national stockpile we’ve helped to ensure those supplies reach the communities where they’re needed.”

The guard is also helping the Idaho Department of Corrections by providing facilities to isolate inmates with COVID-19 from the general populations.

Little noted that many healthcare workers continue to say the workload of the pandemic is straining them.

“Hospitals and other healthcare providers are telling us too many healthcare workers across Idaho are out sick with COVID, and they are contracting it within the community. And doctors and nurses who are healthy are overworked and burned out. This is the biggest challenge facing healthcare right now, the availability of trained, healthy nurses and doctors to care for all patients … and our hospitals are telling us that traveling nurses are increasingly hard to find..”

Little reminded viewers that St. Luke’s had previously announced they would be pausing many elective procedures until Dec. 25.

“This impacts all of us, whether we have COVID or not,” said Little, who said representatives for multiple hospitals say they are potentially weeks away from having to ration care.

Little did not enforce any mask requirements for the state, but reiterated personal responsibility for wearing masks, urging Idahoans to wear them even in social settings. He noted that despite half of Idaho having local mask orders, noncompliance continues.

“I maintain that this comes down to personal responsibility,” said Little. “Please wear a mask when you’re around another person who’s not in your household; It will protect you and your loved ones.”

Little recommended celebrating Thanksgiving at home and avoiding traveling.

To emphasize the virus’ impact, Little invited Amelia Cortez to speak of how it impacted her when she was eight months pregnant with her daughter. 

“Little did I know COVID was taking over my body and my lungs were shutting down,” said Cortez, who spent July in intensive care, including time away from her daughter after giving birth during her ordeal.

Cortez also reported experiencing delusions, where she thought she was waking up in different states, different countries, even in the basement of an Albertson’s. She urged young adults like herself to observe Little’s orders.

“The hallucinations I was experiencing were horrid; To my peers, I really hope that you guys can really understand where I’m coming from and take this seriously, because I almost lost my life.”

Christine Hahn, state epidemiologist, reviewed state hospitalization data; The state had 395 patients hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19 as of Nov. 11.

Hahn acknowledged reports that Pfizer’s potential vaccine has 90% efficacy, as well as the monoclonal antibody treatment bamlanivimab being approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Hahn reported that the state vaccine advisory council continues to make plans for when the FDA approves a vaccine, echoing Little’s calls to wear masks in the meantime. 

When asked why masks remain encouraged instead of mandated statewide, Little said the issue remains that law enforcement can’t be everywhere all the time.

“The science tells us that transmission is happening in small group settings, with our friends and loved ones where we tend to let our guard down about physical distancing and masks,” said Little. “Taking the right action in public is incredibly important. But it’s more important that we continue those practices in all areas  of our lives. That means we all must limit social gatherings and practice physical distancing and wearing masks with anyone, anywhere who’s not a member of our households.”

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