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Boise mayor on coronavirus cases: 'We are optimistic' about moving to next reopening stage

While outbreaks have been reported among meatpacking workers at some Idaho plants, Mayor Lauren McLean says city officials are looking at more localized data.
Credit: Jeremy Stiles/KTVB

BOISE, Idaho — Boise's mayor, much like Idaho's governor, is expressing some cautious optimism about proceeding to the next phase of reopening.

Mayor Lauren McLean said Wednesday that she, the City Council, and city staff hope to support businesses throughout Boise in reopening and recovering from the economic blow dealt by the coronavirus outbreak, and measures intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In a virtual round table discussion with reporters, McLean said the economic recovery task force announced on May 18 will "help set the stage for a larger economic development plan, and that will include the input of many, many people throughout this community."

The State of Idaho and the City of Boise are both in Stage 2 of their phased reopening plans.

Stage 3 is tentatively set to begin on Saturday, with guidelines allowing bars to reopen and relaxing limits on travel and gatherings of less than 50 people. Park playgrounds also would reopen in Stage 3 of Boise's plan for city facilities.

For the state and the city, proceeding to Stage 3 is contingent upon there being no significant increase in COVID-19 cases, meaning, in one context, no increase that would strain Idaho's health care capacity.

"We are watching the data. We just talked with Central District Health yesterday on what Stage 3 and Stage 4 will look like, and we are optimistic at this point," McLean said on Wednesday. "However, we're waiting to hear from the governor with regard to whether or not the state will progress into the next stage."

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When asked about recent reports of coronavirus outbreaks at some Idaho meatpacking plants, and if they raised concerns about food safety, McLean said those outbreaks point to the importance of testing and contact tracing to "nip those outbreaks in the bud as quickly as possible."

"In the conversations we've had around the increase in numbers, we've drilled down more to a local look to the Central health district," she said. "Those meatpacking plants aren't in Boise, and again I just say that our food is safe."

McLean also said the numbers from Central District Health all look "relatively good."

"The outbreaks that we were seeing in March and early April were much higher than what we're seeing now, and I would credit that to the diligent efforts of our residents in spacing themselves, staying home," she continued. "Thank you to those who will wear masks when you're out and about and the slow and safe reopening that we've experienced today in our community."

Other than a few added measures specific to the Boise Airport and other city facilities, the City of Boise has adopted the Idaho Rebounds reopening plan, and made the state's public health and safety guidelines a public health order for the city.

Gov. Brad Little is scheduled to make an announcement about Stage 3 on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. That press conference will be streamed live on KTVB.COM and on the KTVB YouTube channel.

City of Boise budget; 8th Street plans; controversy over transition report

The City of Boise is beginning work on a budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which, for the city, begins on October 1.

In a workshop on Tuesday, department heads began presenting parts of their budget to the City Council.

RELATED: Boise city leaders considering 2% property tax increase

In Wednesday's roundtable, McLean said their goal is fourfold: "to protect city resources, to make sure that we reserve what we need to reserve to be able to provide services to the community; to limit property tax growth" and to "make investments to spur economic recovery."

McLean is recommending a 2% property tax increase, rather than the 3% maximum that the law allows for city and county governments.

"I shared with the council the list of priorities that I have around affordable housing, economic opportunity, transportation -- all with an eye to, at the end of the day, making sure that we as a community thrive in the long run, in the new world that COVID will bring upon us," she said.

Other city issues McLean discussed Wednesday included the pilot program in which the city-owned portion of 8th Street between Bannock and Main streets would close to motorized traffic to allow more outdoor dining space for restaurants, which also would allow for more physical distancing.

She said the timing is to be determined, but city staff is "nailing down final details." 

"We're working closely with the businesses on 8th Street and are hoping to coordinate with the opening more of those restaurants," McLean said. "When we're dealing with a crisis we need to do everything we can, and try new ideas and thinking of new ways to support our residents, protect their health and ultimately now to support businesses. But if it means it's forever, I just don't know yet, we'll need to see how well it works."

Boise is about to step up the search for a new fire chief to succeed Dennis Doan.

McLean said the city has hired a search firm, and plans to pull stakeholders together in June to help write a profile and job description.

RELATED: 'It’s been a challenge': Boise fire stations working hard to prevent spread of coronavirus

RELATED: Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan resigns before Boise City Council meeting

After a national search for a new Boise police chief, two candidates were selected as finalists earlier this spring, but a new permanent chief has not yet been named.

RELATED: Boise police chief candidates narrowed down to final 2

McLean also answered questions about a controversy over a transition report from one of the six committees she formed after being elected mayor last winter.

RELATED: 'These are not policy documents': Boise mayor addresses transition committee reports

The Idaho Freedom Foundation posted an article about one of the reports on its own website, with a headline declaring "McLean's transition team envisions Boise as the next Portland, San Francisco." The article suggests that McLean's team was looking to turn Boise into a hub of "communism."

McLean said the IFF is taking the work of one transition subcommittee out of context, and "dividing the community at a time when we need to come together around economic recovery and the deep and serious challenges we have.

"These are not policy documents, they are reports to me and my administration," McLean said. "It's the job of a leader -- I really, really believe right now more than ever -- but it always has been the job of the leader to recognize that there are people in a community, when asked to give feedback, are going to put their heart and soul into it. But when you just ask them for feedback and recommendations and you don't control what it is they're recommending to you, you have to be open to receiving that feedback, and then it's the job of the leader, in this case a mayor and administration, to prioritize based on the needs of the community."

RELATED: Boise mayor's transition report aims to create a 'more equitable city for everyone'

RELATED: Boise mayor announces affordable housing project

RELATED: Boise mayor forms task force to help city's economy bounce back

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