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Viewpoint: 'A new normal:' What does the coronavirus future look like in Idaho? Will life get back to the way it was before?

Idaho State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn says COVID-19 will have a big impact on the way we live our lives for at least a year.

BOISE, Idaho — Governor Brad Little extended his stay at home order through April 30. The new order eases restrictions allowing some non-essential businesses to reopen if they can offer curbside pick-up or drop-off, or delivery or mail service. He says he will reevaluate the situation over the next couple weeks then decide what to do next.

Idaho State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn says the coronavirus will have a big impact on the way we live our lives for at least a year when a vaccine is expected to be available.

KTVB's Doug Petcash interviewed Dr. Hahn about the stay at home order and what the COVID-19 future could look like for Idaho.

Doug Petcash: What's it going to take to loosen even more restrictions?

Dr. Christine Hahn: "What we're going to be watching for really carefully over the next few weeks is whether we start to see any reversal in the good progress we've made. And the folks we're going to watch the most closely are the people getting hospitalized with severe illness. We might see a rise in case numbers. I'm sure we're going to be talking about testing, but as we start to see more tests being done we might see more positive cases out there. That in itself isn't necessarily worrisome because it might just reflect better testing and more testing. But if we start seeing more people going into the hospitals, if we start seeing hospitals that are starting to get full then we need to carefully consider retreating from what we've been trying to do.”

Doug Petcash: What's it going to take to get life back to the way we used to know it before the coronavirus?

Dr. Christine Hahn: “That's a great question. I think some people are saying we may never completely go back to life as we knew it at least not until there's a vaccine a year or more from now. A great example I think the governor has referred to several times is 9/11. When 9/11 happened, in a way life is back to normal, but it's a new normal. We now have TSA in our airports. We have certain laws that were changed in this country as a result of that event. And I think this is a similar event that's going to change some of what we do at least for the next year or so until we have a good vaccine and we can really control this."

Doug Petcash: Will the virus die off or die down in the summer?

Dr. Christine Hahn: "A lot of people are really interested in that. The straight answer is we don't know yet. We are hopeful because like many other viruses, the flu for example, they tend to peter out over the summer. They don't necessarily completely go away, but we saw a lot fewer cases over the summer of a lot of our respiratory viruses. So we don't know yet, but we're hopeful that we will see a little bit of a decrease over the summer or even a big decrease over the summer."

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Doug Petcash:  Has Idaho hit its peak yet? We're hearing about different models, like the University of Washington model said April 16 was going to be our peak. What model are you looking at and using here in Idaho, and have we hit the peak?

Dr. Christine Hahn: “The answer to that is complicated. We have seen a peak if you look back through our data you can see that in early April we had our highest numbers of cases being reported. That's when we saw the surge in hospitals and so forth. But the question really is are we going to see another peak? And that depends on how we do. If Idahoans continue to socially distance like they've been doing, if we can continue to watch out for ourselves and our neighbors, I'm encouraging people to really consider starting to wear face coverings when they go into grocery stores public places. If we do it well maybe we won't see another peak at all.”

Doug Petcash: Does Idaho have a model that you're looking at for making these decisions?

Dr. Christine Hahn: "We're looking at all the data we can. We have also developed our own model in Idaho that you probably have heard of, and that is our universities have worked together to create a model. That model though is a little different of a focus and that is what we've been using, instead of how to predict how many people might end up in the hospital or how many people might get sick. We've been using that model mostly to plan and look at the impacts of what we're doing. So if, for example, we keep social distancing for another two weeks how is that going to impact our number of cases, how is that going to impact our hospitals."

Doug Petcash:  Do you have any indication the coronavirus arrived in Idaho before March?

Dr. Christine Hahn: “The short answer is we don't know when it really first arrived. As you know, our first case was reported on March 13, but it is likely. “We think it is likely that it was here sooner. First of all, almost everybody I know, including myself, has a friend or knows somebody that swears they had the symptoms prior to then. It's certainly possible. People travel back and forth to states that had cases before us, California and Washington. It is certainly possible, but we don't have any way of knowing that yet.”

You can watch the full interview on Viewpoint Saturday morning at 10:30 and then Sunday at 6:30 and 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.

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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