BOISE, Idaho — Idaho has again fallen short of the benchmarks to move forward out of Stage 4 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, Gov. Brad Little announced in a Thursday press conference.
Stage 4 restrictions will continue for at least another two weeks.
"We are seeing increased spread in Ada, Canyon, Twin Falls, Bonneville and Kootenai Counties," Little said. "The rise in confirmed cases in those areas is very concerning."
The state had needed to see a downward trend in emergency room visits tied to the coronavirus over a 14-day period; a mark Idaho missed. Positivity rates - a measure of what percent of tests come back as positive for COVID-19 - were also above 13% over the last several days, well above the metric of 5% the state was aiming for, according to officials.
The governor said he will continue to support decision-making at local levels to slow the spread of the virus, and urged everyone to do their part by wearing a mask.
"The one thing that will dramatically slow the spread of coronavirus is for every single one of us to wear a mask. I couldn't agree more with President Trump: Wearing a mask is the patriotic thing to do," he said. "Wear a mask to protect lives."
A mandatory mask order is in place for Ada County, but Little said he is not considering mandating masks or face coverings statewide.
Central District Health Director Russ Duke said that wearing face coverings was "absolutely essential" to managing the virus, especially as the start of the school year draws closer.
"This is a really big deal with school starting less than a month from now. Anything we can do to help drive down those numbers and get kids back to school is what our main objective is," he said.
Little said he want students in school to be the "default," but acknowledged that things may change from week to week, and that schools need to be prepared.
Duke added that CDH plans to discuss what additional actions the health district should be taking at next week's board meeting.
"Our goal at Central District Health is to make sure that the over 75,000 students who will be going back to school here in a matter of a few weeks are able to do that whether it be online or a combination of online and in-person classroom setting," Duke said.
Earlier in July, Little said Idaho had not met the benchmarks necessary to move forward out of Stage 4. COVID-infections are continuing to go up, especially in Ada County, where the Central District Health building is located.
The press conference came one day after Idaho saw its largest single-day spike in coronavirus deaths, with nine total. Five people died in Ada County, two in Canyon County and one each in Twin Falls and Blaine counties.