BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed an emergency declaration Friday to prevent coronavirus spread in Idaho.
The declaration makes funds available for the Emergency Disaster Fund and activates the Idaho Emergency Operations Plan, which will allow the governor more flexibility in expediting contracts and buying supplies. The emergency declaration will help Idaho's ability to get critical supplies like respirators from the national stockpile, and expedite the renewal of licenses for nurses.
At this time, there are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in Idaho. But with the Gem State surrounded by states currently dealing with the outbreak, Little said that it is critical to be proactive.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has set up a "strike team" focused on protecting the elderly and health-compromised who are most at risk from coronavirus. Little said it is important to "flatten the curve" of the outbreak when it comes to prevent hospitals from being stretched too thin to care for everyone who is sick.
"If we don't all do our part to control the spread of coronavirus, then our health system will be overrun in a short period of time," the governor said. "If too many people get sick too soon, our health care facilities will not have the capacity to deal with it. Our goal is to preserve hospital capacity and keep our healthcare workers safe and healthy by slowing down the influx of patients into our healthcare facilities."
Little repeated the need for everyone to wash their hands frequently, cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing, and staying home if sick.
State epidemiologist Christine Hahn said that four private labs are now working with the Idaho State Laboratory to test people for the coronavirus, a move she says will help make certain more people can get tested. As of Friday morning, 131 people have been tested.
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Hahn acknowledged that larger numbers of Idahoans need to be tested, but said the state lab alone is "somewhat limited."
"Our state lab has been able to test everything that has come to it. We have not had to put samples on backlog," she said. "That said though, the message to providers has been 'hey, we have limited capacity so don't swamp us, don't overwhelm us.' So they've been sending us the sickest, and the ones they thought were highest at risk."
Governors in Oregon and Washington have ordered school closures, but Idaho is not moving to do the same yet, Little said. The governor noted that superintendents also have the authority to shut down schools in their district.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said her office is communicating closely with superintendents across the state, and encouraging schools to work with kids on good hygiene skills like hand washing.
A message on the state's official coronavirus information site that declared "the individual risk in Idaho is low at this time" has been removed.
“Being surrounded by states with confirmed cases, the risk is no longer low,” a spokesperson for the governor said Thursday.
KTVB will air the governor's news conference live KTVB.COM, on KTVB Channel 7, and on our YouTube channel.
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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