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Gov. Brad Little encouraged by coronavirus trends, but Idaho remains in Stage 4 of its reopening plan

The governor said Idahoans have been through a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are on a good path to economy recovery.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little gave his bi-weekly update on COVID-19 Friday afternoon.

Some key metrics have shown signs of improvement, however COVID hospitalization rates remain too high. That means Idaho will remain in Stage 4 of the state's reopening plan for another two weeks, but the governor remained upbeat about the state's economic recovery.

"Our responsible approach to governing have positioned Idaho very, very well to rebound from the ongoing impacts of COVID-19. Idaho truly is the envy of other states," Little said. 

Little says most other states are still in varying stages of lockdown while most of Idaho has been open for business for months. And while students in other states face months of remote learning, most of Idaho's students are safely back in the classroom for in-person instruction.

New numbers released by the Idaho Department of Labor on Thursday show that Idaho has recovered well so far during the pandemic. Unemployment figures dropped again. We now have a 4.2% unemployment rate in Idaho. Little says that's half the national average.

RELATED: Idaho initial and continuing unemployment claims drop again

"This is a big deal. There's only two other states ahead of us," Little said.

He said Idaho was one of the first states to safely and responsibly rebound the economy in stages.

And his administration has distributed dividends to over 8,700 small businesses. 

Stephanie Camarillo owns Molly Maid of Boise and the Treasure Valley, a residential cleaning business. She says it's been a challenge since her employees can't work from home. She said the personal protection equipment provided to business owners was essential to keeping her her employees safe and on the job. She was also able to take advantage of Idaho's Return to Work program.

"It was wonderful to be able to honor them with a paycheck for coming back to work, and for having the courage to be able to do that. But it helped us from a business perspective because we were able to retain those vital employees who have helped us," Camario said.

Scott Turlington is the president of Tamarack Resort in Donnelly. He also spoke at Friday's press conference. He says when the pandemic hit in March, they had to layoff 250 employees, but thanks to the $1,500 back-to-work incentive provided by the state in June, they've been able to bring 52 employees back to the mountain. 

"Without this incentive it's unlikely we could have met the unprecedented increase that we saw in guest visits this summer," Turlington said.  

"We saw a record number of visits this summer at Tamarack. Almost a 200% increase in guest visits over last summer."

He credits the resort for being well prepared with health and safety protocols that made guests feel comfortable to come back.

At the end of the press conference, the governor answered a final question about what it will take to get out of Stage 4.

"This is not going to go away soon," Little remarked.

"Even if we do satisfy our hospitalization and ICU capacity we cannot let our guard down until we have a vaccine."

This comes as 275 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Idaho on Thursday, while another 60 cases are considered probable.

Our two-week average is hovering around 255 cases.

New testing data from the state shows our positivity rate is dropping as well -- now sitting at 6.9 percent.

Ada, Bonneville and Canyon counties are the top three hot spots this week across Idaho.

Five new virus-related deaths were confirmed, while about 290 more have recovered.

Watch the full press conference below on YouTube.

Two weeks ago, Little said that Idaho has not met the metrics needed to move out of Stage 4 health restrictions.  He added that COVID hospitalization numbers were not where we want to be as Idaho heads into flu season, which is expected to tap the state's healthcare system even more.

Idaho has been stalled in Stage 4 for over three months. It was initially set to expire on June 27. Stage 4 allows gatherings of more than 50 people as long as precautions are taken.