BOISE, Idaho — Central District Board of Health voted unanimously Friday to lift public health orders in both Ada and Valley counties related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The orders have been replaced with advisories that function as "strong recommendations" for residents to continue wearing a mask, practice social distancing, and avoid large gatherings to help prevent new infections of the virus.
Board members pointed to falling case counts and hospitalizations, saying they were more comfortable relaxing orders as coronavirus cases continued to trend downward across the state.
Several public health officials warned that the pandemic was not over and urged members of the community not to take the lifted orders as a sign they no longer need to take precautions.
Board members, in particular, expressed concern about a United Kingdom variant of COVID-19 that recently showed up in low levels in Ada County wastewater. That variant is more infectious, more lethal, and could lead to another surge if residents do not do their part to help check the virus' spread, officials said.
For the full story on the vote, click here.
The previous story is included below.
The Central District Board of Health is scheduled to meet Friday morning. On the agenda is a discussion and possible vote to change the public health orders in effect for both Ada and Valley counties.
The meeting comes at a time when daily COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations have dropped significantly.
“They've dropped, I would say, considerably compared to where we were with our November peak,” CDH Director Russ Duke said. “Where we were having over 3,000 cases a week.”
Now the health district is seeing anywhere from 600 to 700 cases a week, according to Duke. All counties in the region are seeing this downward trend of cases and hospitalizations.
The downward trend one reason why the board will re-visit the public health orders and the public health advisory, which were issued last year during the height of the pandemic.
“The board will have an opportunity to discuss the orders - do they want to keep them in place, do they want to modify them or do they want to lift them,” Duke said.
The director no longer thinks orders are needed at this time based on what he has seen in the community.
“My plan is to reissue or update a public health advisory for all four counties,” he said. “It'll shift to a guideline, a strong recommendation.”
His recommendation is based on the behaviors that Duke sees for himself when he is out and about.
“Whether it’s at a gas station or grocery store or hardware store, I see people riding together in a car and I assume they’re not from the same household because they have their face coverings on,” he said. “I think that matters. I think it’s made a real difference that a majority of our people are just taking these basic precautions.”
Depending on what the board decides, it's possible that there could no longer be any health orders in effect for Ada and Valley counties.
Ada County’s health order prevents large gatherings at concert venues, sporting venues, and parades and festivals. It prohibits gatherings of 50 or more and social gatherings of 10 or more people.
The order also includes a number of restrictions on visiting long-term care facilities. Visitors must follow strict guidelines like being screened for COVID-19 symptoms, wear face-coverings, and maintain social distancing when inside.
Duke is recommending that the order be downgraded to a strong recommendation.
“My strong message no matter what happens is for all four counties, we need to continue to practice the precautions we've always taken,” he said.
A key reason to continue taking preventative measures is because of the vaccine rollout as it pertains to Idahoans age 65 years and older.
The group became eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine on February 1.
“The vast majority of these 81,000 people living in our district are now eligible for the vaccine," Duke said. "As of the board meeting [on Friday], not one single person would’ve received the second dose."
He said this based on the timelines for receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer vaccine or Moderna vaccine.
“We’re really long ways - like months - before all of those people will have the opportunity to get both doses plus two weeks,” Duke said. “It’s far premature to go back to normal, that’s the bottom line.”
The vaccine rollout hit another snag this week with shipment delays caused by inclement weather.
A provider in the region had to cancel appointments this week because they were expecting vaccines to come at the beginning of the week, and they didn't get them, according to Duke.
The board will meet Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. KTVB will carry it live on our website and YouTube channel.
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