BOISE, Idaho — Five days into the first stage of Idaho's phased reopening, Gov. Brad Little thanks people all over Idaho who have made "incredible sacrifices and done the right thing" to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Places of worship are now allowed to open under Stage One, which began Friday, May 1; so are daycares and organized youth activities, including camps.
That doesn't mean every Idaho church has resumed in-person services.
At the beginning of his weekly telephone town hall hosted by AARP of Idaho, the governor discussed a call he had with several church leaders.
"Some of them are open. Some of them are waiting. Some of them are working through their protocols. But we're delighted in what's taking place there, and they are doing a very good job of sitting with working with established protocols and making sure their congregations stay safe, and that's good," Little said.
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Restaurants, indoor gyms and personal care services - such as barber shops and hair and nail salons - are developing plans for reopening in Stage Two, which may begin as early as May 15.
To get to that next stage and, eventually, full reopening, Gov. Little said, Idahoans will have to keep up good hygiene practices and social distancing.
"Those stages are all predicated on us continuing the incredible progress we've made here in Idaho," Little said.
The Rebound Idaho website now includes a page with specific protocols for businesses.
One thing that could interrupt the progress toward more reopening would be a big spike in COVID-19 illnesses, especially if such an increase were to outpace Idaho's healthcare capacity.
A frequently-cited model by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now projects more than 134,000 COVID-19 deaths by early August -- nearly double the model's previous projection, made just a week ago.
KTVB asked Gov. Little and Idaho Health and Welfare Director David Jeppesen if that raised any new concerns about the outlook for Idaho's reopening.
"We know one thing about every model: they'll be wrong," Little said. "But you still have to do your planning."
To aid in that planning, the State of Idaho is using a model developed by researchers with Idaho's public universities.
The UW model's projection about a spike in cases cited in national reports is based in part on cell-phone data, collected by Google and Apple, showing increased movement as many states ease restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
Gov. Little called that an "imperfect barometer."
"If people are driving around in their cars and driving by a loved one's house and blowing a kiss to them through the windshield, that's not exactly not social distancing," he said.
Jeppesen said some models are more useful than others, but they all point to the same bottom line: behavior will determine what happens next.
"What they do help us do is run scenarios of what the future might look like under different sets of assumptions. And one thing that we've learned from from our model, from the models that are run at the national level, is that what really counts is slowing down what's called contact rate or injury, we would call social distancing or physical distance in between people," Jeppesen said. "And what we do know is that it is possible to go ahead, as the governor said, and open up businesses, as long as we have the people of Idaho continue to practice those physical distance in social distancing, and the businesses that they open that they follow the protocols that are out there for preventing the contact rate or slowing down the spread."
Gov. Little said that social distancing -- in some form -- will continue until a good treatment or COVID-19 vaccine is available.
Now and as the pandemic continues, testing is a critical concern in Idaho's fight against COVID-19.
Little said there's still work to do, especially with regard to expanding testing capacity in Idaho's rural areas.
"Generally, testing is way more available in Idaho than it has been for a long time," Little said.
A new task force is developing recommendations on testing to the governor and other state officials.
"We expect to get the first recommendation of how we take this testing capacity and make sure that happens here just in a few days later this week, to be able to mobilize and get that out to all parts of the state," Jeppesen said.
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The governor gives Idahoans in general high marks for doing what state and local leaders have asked them to do in order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.
He said those who are defying state guidelines and demanding immediate reopening represent a small segment of Idaho's people.
"You need to recognize the incredible sacrifices to the literally hundreds of thousands of people in Idaho that are making. Even the people that are essential businesses, to public safety, the healthcare, people in the food and the grocery business. They are all making sacrifices," Little said. "So those people that want to blow it all up and go back to no rules and regulations are, in my mind, just being disrespectful for all those people that are doing the right thing."
To help small businesses that have had to cut back or shut down during the pandemic, the state will begin taking applications for Rebound Idaho grants next Monday, May 11.
With funding from the federal CARES Act, the state is making a total of $300 million in grants available to businesses with fewer than 20 employees -- up to $10,000 for each business.
Jeppesen made a couple of coronavirus-related announcements on behalf of the Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare:
- Emergency grants are now available for child care providers.
- Electronic benefits for SNAP - the food stamp program - can now be used to purchase groceries online through Amazon or Walmart.
The entire telephone town hall is viewable below, or on the AARP Idaho Facebook page.
RELATED: Idaho's total confirmed cases of the coronavirus climbs but daily new case numbers are trending down
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