Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a stay-at-home order Wednesday, requiring all Idahoans to shelter in place, and shuttering all businesses except those deemed essential.
Little’s action follows similar orders in Washington, Oregon and California. The order will last 21 days, but Little said he will examine the order’s term as it progresses.
Activities essential to the health and welfare of Idahoans, like grocery shopping and seeking medical treatment, are allowed. So is outdoor exercise, as long as people keep six feet from others.
Little urged everyone to take the order seriously, but wouldn’t comment on repercussions if people flout the new rules.
He said no one would travel unnecessarily, and told business owners to “take all steps necessary for employees to work remotely from home.”
According to the Idaho Statesman, businesses that can remain open include grocery stores, health care facilities, pharmacies, utilities, gas stations, laundromats, financial institutions, residential- and home-based care, veterinary services, hardware stores, child care for essential workers, infrastructure and “other businesses essential to the safety and well-being of the residents.”
Spurred To Act
Little was spurred to issue the order after the coronavirus was transmitted through community contact in Ada County, the state’s most populous county and home to Boise.
“Idaho is now in a new stage,” Little said Wednesday from Boise Airport’s Gowen Field, where the Idaho National Guard is stationed.
Just the day before, Little said he wanted to rely on voluntary social distancing and “peer pressure” to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Idaho was the 45th state to have a confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, but is the 20th state to issue such an order, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Much of the Midwest and the states surrounding New York have similar orders.
While the state still hasn’t registered a death from the viral disease, Idaho’s public health districts are reporting 73 confirmed cases as of Wednesday afternoon. The Idaho Statesman and other media outlets are reporting more than 100 cases statewide.
Three of those cases are in Kootenai County in North Idaho, according to the state website tracking and reporting on COVID-related news, coronavirus.idaho.gov.
In a town hall with Little on Tuesday, Dave Jeppesen, director of the state’s Department of Health, said Idaho has increased its testing capacity by 10 times since the outbreak hit.
“When this first started, we were at a capacity of 12 to 15 tests a day. We have a capacity now of 160 tests a day,” Jeppesen said. “We have no backlog at the state lab, and we’ve actually performed 1,000 tests so far just at the state lab alone.”
Jeppesen said those tests represent the highest risk cases: the elderly, health care workers and those who have had contact with someone with the viral disease.
Only 5% of those tests have come back positive, Jeppesen said.
On Wednesday, Little rejected criticism that he waited too long to issue his order.
Until the case of community spread appeared in Ada County, the only major outbreak in Idaho was in Blaine County, home to the popular tourist destinations of Ketchum and Sun Valley. State officials issued a mandatory shelter-in-place order for Blaine County residents and anyone who had recently visited the county on March 19, after 17 people there tested positive.
The Blaine County order, however, was a recommendation and not an official order, unlike Little’s statewide stay-at-home order.
On Monday, the Idaho State Board of Education voted to close all public schools for at least four weeks. Little had previously declined to mandate a statewide school closure, citing the need for local districts to decide.
“Again, I want Idahoans to know that every step of the way we have been making sound decisions about Idaho’s response to coronavirus based on the best advice of our public health experts,” Little said Wednesday. “I would like to reiterate, we are doing everything at the appropriate time to prepare Idaho for further spread of coronavirus. We are all in this together, and we all must do our part.”
The governor said he’ll determine the guard’s role as needed, but said it could assist in transportation and assisting local communities if they get overwhelmed.