BOISE, Idaho — Idaho will be again held in Stage 4 of the coronavirus restrictions for two more weeks, although the state has improved on some of the metrics measuring the severity of the pandemic, Gov. Brad Little said Friday.
Officials say more than eight people a day on average are being admitted to Idaho hospitals with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 - higher than the benchmark set by health officials.
But Little said other metrics, including testing positivity rates, ER visits and overall cases appear to be moving downward or stabilizing, an encouraging sign in the state's fight against the virus.
"Our statewide metrics tell us our efforts to preserve healthcare capacity and slow the spread of coronavirus are working," he said. "Canyon, Ada, Kootenai, Bonneville, and Twin Falls counties continue to be hot spots for virus activity, and I support mayors and public health officials in their decisions to mitigate spread at the local level."
During the Friday press conference, the governor announced that $2.5 million in coronavirus relief funds have been allocated to the Idaho Foodbank.
Layoffs and reduced hours have left more Idahoans than ever relying on the Idaho Foodbank and its partners to help make ends meet, he said. Little also touted the nonprofits work with schools, where backpack food programs and at-school pantries help stave off food insecurity for students and their families.
Idaho Foodbank President and CEO Karen Vauk agreed, saying the uncertainty around school schedules is putting even more pressure on stretched-thin parents to find childcare or cut back their working hours further to stay at home with school-aged kids.
"The pressures for our families are real, and the burden is heavy for many," she said.
Vauk said the Idaho Foodbank has responded by stepping up the amount of food they are giving away as well as adding 15 new community distribution sites for people to pick up food. She urged those struggling with financial problems in the wake of the pandemic to turn to the nonprofit for help.
"As families are facing these daunting challenges, we must be there to assist," she said. "As they review that tight budget, trying to make the difficult choices of what can and can't be paid, our message is this: Apply for Idaho's emergency rent and utility assistance, and pay for whatever may not be covered. Pay for your medicine so you do not jeopardize your health. And let us help you with the food."
Answering questions from reporters, Little again said he was leaving decisions about what schools should do up to individual districts.
"Every single educator I talk to wants to be back in the classroom, but a lot of them have legitimate concerns," he said. "I want schools to open, but I also want to keep staff, students and the community safe. And what I would urge those school boards [to] do is to communicate with their local public health boards about what's the science, what's going on."
Little also touched on the pushback some of the public health districts have faced in terms of protests, threats against their employees and vandalism at one north Idaho health district, saying his team is in daily communication with health officials to offer them support. He added that although it was not his preference, he would step in if he believed a health district was not doing enough to protect against the virus.
But the governor struck a different tone when asked whether he would tell the Idaho lawmakers coming to Boise for a special session next week to wear masks and socially distance from one another, and whether police should enforce Ada County's mask mandate is legislators refuse to do so.
Little said he hoped lawmakers had heard his comments about washing their hands and wearing face coverings, adding that there had been "robust discussions" on that subject with legislative leadership, but stopped short of saying he would enforce it.
"That really is the jurisdiction of the Legislature, they govern themself," he said.
The governor will next announce whether Idaho can move forward out of Stage 4 on Sept. 4.
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.
Facts not fear: More on coronavirus
See our latest updates in our YouTube playlist: