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'We're tapping on the brakes': Gov. Little extends Stage 4 restrictions as Idaho's COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Idaho did not meet the metrics to move forward to fewer restrictions, the governor said.

BOISE, Idaho — Most of Idaho will remain in Stage 4 for at least two more weeks after the state failed to meet the benchmarks necessary to move forward, Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday. 

The announcement came Thursday during a press conference Little called to address the state's Idaho Rebounds plan.

"The statewide approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 three months ago was the right thing to do. Three months ago, testing and contact tracing was limited, some areas of Idaho faced alarming healthcare capacity restraints, and there wasn't enough personal protective equipment on hand for businesses and healthcare workers," Little said. "But from the start, our plan was to eventually transition to a more regional approach in our response and that's what we've begun.

Stage 4 of coronavirus restrictions will be extended for those counties that were already in that stage. Ada County, however, has been moved back to Stage 3 by Central District Health after a spike of coronavirus cases.

RELATED: Treasure Valley testing sites staying busy as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

"The goal all along has been to ensure our hospitals aren't overrun with people seriously ill from complications of this highly contagious respiratory disease," Little said. "You can engage in the economy, safely go back to work, and safely receive care from your medical provider, but you must do so while practicing the proven measures to fight the spread of coronavirus."

Health officials will reevaluate at the end of the two-week period to determine whether the state can move out of Stage 4. Little said it is crucial for every Idahoan to do their part to make sure that happens.

"We want businesses to reopen. We want our children back in school at the end of the summer," he said. "So please, do not let your guard down."

Watch Gov. Little's full news conference in the YouTube player below:

State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said there is a rising trend in people going to the emergency room with "COVID-like" symptoms, as well as an increase in infections among healthcare workers. 

Most of the health workers infected have been in Ada and Canyon counties, and are believed to have been exposed to the virus out in the community, rather than at their jobs.

"Our cases have been increasing pretty dramatically in the last two weeks, over the 14 days that we have measured here, you can see an increasing trend in cases," Hahn said.

RELATED: While COVID-19 cases in Canyon County grow, Southwest District Health has no plans to return to Stage 3

Hahn added that Idaho has met the guidelines for healthcare capacity, meaning that hospitals have not yet become overtaxed by the number of patients. Currently, there are about 100 ICU beds and 400 ventilators still available, she said.

"Right now we are not using crisis standards of care in the hospitals," she said. "They are able to manage patients, they have enough ICU beds, they have enough ventilators - we're all good for now."

By Thursday morning, Idaho had reached 4,645 confirmed and probable cases statewide, with 215 new cases reported on Wednesday - the single largest one-day spike in cases since the outbreak began in March. 

Little said he believed holding at Stage 4 was the right response to the jump in cases, rather than moving backwards to a previous stage, like what happened in Ada County. Nine counties in Idaho have not yet had a single confirmed COVID-19 case, he noted.

RELATED: CDC expands list of groups at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness

The governor says he hopes delaying the move out of Stage 4 will push Idahoans to adhere to social distancing and face-covering guidelines, and allow the state to get the upward trend of infections under control.

"We're not slamming on the brakes, we're tapping on the brakes," he said.

However, the governor said he is not considering implementing mandatory face-covering rules the way some neighboring states have.

"Mandatory masks just don't make any sense for a lot of Idaho," he said.

Little urged residents to say vigilant, noting that life may not completely return to normal even if cases trend downward again.

"We're going to have to have capacity in the fall, and as the days get shorter and people are more inside, we're going to have to do more," he said. "Hopefully, we'll know more about it. Hopefully, we'll have more therapeutics. Hopefully, a vaccine will be on the horizon -  but if it isn't, we're going to have to ramp up our practices going forward."

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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