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Bars to open, non-essential travel allowed as Idaho readies to move into Stage 3

"I'm hopeful that we've passed the worst of COVID-19 in the state," Gov. Brad Little said.

BOISE, Idaho — The state will move into the latest phase of reopening on Saturday, May 30 as scheduled, signaling that coronavirus cases in the state have neither increased dramatically nor threatened Idaho hospitals' capacity to care for those who are ill. 

Gov. Brad Little made the announcement that Idaho is on track to lift more restrictions during a press conference Thursday.

Under Stage 3, bars will be allowed to open as long as they adhere to cleanliness and social distancing protocols. Gatherings of up to 50 people will also be allowed - up from ten people in Stage 2 - and those who enter the state will no longer be asked to quarantine for 14 days, unless they traveled to Idaho from a place with active COVID-19 transmission.

RELATED: Interactive map and timelines tracking coronavirus numbers and trends in Idaho

Non-essential travel to places where there is not active transmission is also green-lit under the new stage. Movie theaters, which were originally set to open during Stage 4, were moved up and can begin to open their doors on Saturday as well.

"I'm hopeful that we've passed the worst of COVID-19 in the state," Little said.

Some restrictions will remain in place. Visits to correctional facilities and longterm care facilities are still banned under Stage 3, and large venues and sporting events remain shut down. The governor added that employees should be allowed to telework if possible, and vulnerable Idahoans should continue to protect themselves from exposure to the virus. 

Little warned that half a million Idahoans are at risk of developing serious complications if they catch the coronavirus.

RELATED: US reaches 100,000 COVID-19 deaths

"We all have a role to play in keeping them safe," he said. "Our personal actions are the most effective way to manage the virus and get our economy roaring again."

The decision to move forward into the next stage of reopening was made after examining infection and testing data from across the state, Little said.

State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said that the slope of new infections is inching downward and that hospitals still have more than enough ICU beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment for staff. Likewise, data tracking how many people come into hospitals with "COVID-like symptoms" - and how many of those people are sick enough to be admitted - is also on the downswing, Hahn said.

Little has previously said that the reopening plan will stop in its tracks, or even go backwards if the state sees a spike in cases. The four-stage plan helps balance the need to get the economy restarted with the importance of making sure the virus is not spreading out of control, he said. 

"We do these things in two-week increments so we have time to see the net effect of what the last opening did," Little said. "I am satisfied in my own mind that we have done the right thing by saying we want to keep people safe but also as I alluded to, there's not a safety silo and an economic silo."

RELATED: Overall coronavirus trend 'going the direction we want,' Idaho governor says

Little said the reopening plan also hinges on personal responsibility: Practicing physical distancing and good hygiene, staying home when feeling sick and wearing a  face mask, especially during visits to retail and grocery stores.

"Wearing a mask is just the right thing to do. Now, when you're outside - particularly when you're out in the sunshine - if you don't have a cough or anything and you're not being close to anything, that's totally different," he said. "But if you're in a closed environment, the circulation is maybe in question wearing a mask is the right thing for you to do, and its the right thing for you to do for everyone else."

Idaho is projected to enter Stage 4 on June 13.

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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