PAYETTE COUNTY - At a press conference on June 11, Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced that the state would enter stage four of its reopening plan on June 13.
Little said that continued guidance would be given “to protect the health and safety of Idahoans, and preserve health-care capacity, while ensuring a strong economic rebound so that we can restore prosperity we had just months ago.”
He said measures taken in March and April to slow the spread of novel coronavirus COVID-19 worked “very, very well.”
“There was no other way to effectively slow the spread of this deadly disease in our state, without the actions we took together,” he said, saying taking no action would have been a “catastrophe.”
Under stage 4 of reopening, Gov. Little said all businesses in Idaho would be allowed back in business.
“On Saturday, one-hundred percent of businesses will be able to open their doors as we enter stage four of our Idaho Rebounds plan.”
However, he noted reopening has not been without its difficulty.
“The jobs are coming back, but businesses tell me that they’re having a hard time recruiting employees,” Gov. Little noted. “The return-to-work bonuses are based on a basic, conservative principle: We much prefer people working and contributing to our economic velocity, to people collecting unemployment.”
As announced on June 5, Gov. Little’s return to work plan offers up to $1,500 cash to each Idahoan who chooses to go back to work or find a new job, in hopes of counteracting the potential to earn more money through enhanced unemployment enacted due to COVID-19, with some programs expiring in seven weeks.
“Work strengthens not just the individual and their family, but all of society,” he said.
Little also expressed concern about those still not practicing physical distancing putting others at risk.
“Despite our incredible progress, there are still some in Idaho who are not practicing measures to keep themselves and others safe,” he said. “Even if contracting COVID-19 is low on your personal concerns, I urge you to practice safe measures to protect others.”
To encourage this, Little announced earlier this week a new “One Idaho” initiative, to further educate Idahoans about practicing preventative measures themselves, with an accompanying website which invites Idahoans to pledge their efforts to continue slowing the spread of COVID-19.
“Community spread is occurring in more than half of the counties in our state; This isn’t just a Boise and Treasure Valley issue. Across the country, we’re seeing the virus move from cities into rural areas where health-care access is limited,” he said.
COVID-19 spread is ‘barely downward’
State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn notes that while the rate of spread in Idaho has been slowed, more needs to be done.
“It’s barely downward … and we did have a surge in early June,” said Hahn. “We are concerned that we may see more cases and part of that is due to good news, which is that our testing has gone up dramatically. Our number of tests jumped from four (thousand) to five thousand per week, up to ten thousand in the last week of May.”
Hahn said the percent of positive cases has been falling as a result of increased testing, which she hopes to see sustained at a rate of 10,000 per week.
“We’re headed in that direction … we see that as a good sign,” she said, noting that rates of other respiratory infections are in decline, too.
With access to tele-health resources having increased during the pandemic, Little said he plans to encourage and sustain its growth.
“We went from one of the lowest states for tele-health, to one of the highest in a short amount of time,” he said.
The governor said the state, in cooperation with mayors from around the state, leveraged CARES Act funds to bolster local public safety salaries to ensure no reductions in staffing occur.
“At the same time, we’re giving cities and counties the opportunity to pass on savings to property taxpayers,” he said.
Little reports the measure is expected to save property taxpayers in Idaho approximately $200 million in one-time savings with each taxpayer potentially saving 10% to 20% in 2020.
He said his staff have kept Idahoans in mind throughout the pandemic.
“Our focus all along has been to prevent our health-care facilities from being overrun in a short period of time, something that would have had a devastating effect on our lives and our economy,” Little said.