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Idaho's phased reopening: 'some of it is not going to be perfectly fair,' Gov. Little says

Idaho's stay-home order is set to expire Thursday. The governor is set to make an announcement about the next phase that morning.

BOISE, Idaho — The reopening of some Idaho businesses that were deemed "non-essential," and have had to shut down because of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, is set to begin Friday, but it won't happen all at once.

The current statewide stay-at-home order is set to expire on Thursday.

The next day, Friday, May 1, Gov. Brad Little will hold a news conference about what comes next. That is scheduled for 11:00 a.m., and will be streamed live on KTVB.COM and the KTVB YouTube channel.

"I think we will meet the criteria for Stage One unless something significant happens moving forward," Little said Tuesday in a telephonic town hall hosted by the AARP.

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During that call, the governor also admitted that some of the reopening plan is "not going to be perfectly fair."

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Under the first stage of the reopening plan, set for May 1 through May 15, places of worship can open if they adhere to strict physical distancing, sanitation protocol, and any guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Daycare facilities and organized youth activities, including camps, also can reopen during Stage One.

In that stage, Idahoans are still advised to avoid non-essential travel or gatherings of any size. A 14-day self-quarantine for people entering Idaho continues through the month of May. 

Gyms and personal care services, such as barbershops and beauty salons, may reopen during Stage Two, set for May 16-29, if they can meet protocols.

Restaurant dining rooms can also open during Stage Two, once their plans have been submitted for approval by local public health districts.

Bars and nightclubs are to remain closed until Stage Four, June 13-26.

That distinction between restaurants and bars raised a question about logic and fairness, using the example of a brew pub that offers alcoholic beverages in its dining room and is classified as a restaurant because it serves food, while the tap room of a craft brewery would be classified as a bar, even if the brewery regularly hosted food trucks.

The question came during Tuesday's AARP town hall, when a caller identified as Mark from Meridian asked Gov. Little why one establishment that can abide by the same social distancing guidelines as another must wait up to four weeks longer to open under the state's reopening plan.

The governor began answering the question by saying that the plan, from the beginning, "is not perfect."

He also said that bars "by their very nature, have a lower propensity to have social distancing than a sit-down restaurant."

"There are going to be instances of where the fairness of it, particularly if you're the business, it doesn't look right and it's probably not right," Little said. "I agree with you that it's not fair, but where do you draw the line? If you sell peanuts in a bar is it a restaurant? Or a hot dog?"

Another caller, Jenny from Koosia, asked the governor to cite, specifically, the laws and constitutional provisions that give him the authority to issue orders that have forced businesses to close.

"What gives you the right to continue to mandate that Idahoans be barred from providing for their families by denying them access to the operations of their businesses, which are their property and are protected by the Fifth Amendment? I'm not asking to hear about CDC guidelines. As governor of this state you're answerable to the people of Idaho," she said.

Gov. Little mentioned the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reserves to the states or to the people those powers not delegated to the national government. He also mentioned Title 46 of Idaho state law, which includes the state's disaster preparedness act.

"My obligation is to protect the people of Idaho and to protect their economic livelihood," Little said. "Had we not done something, the turmoil of the economy would have been much much worse: The amount of people that died, the amount of people that were sick. The economic turmoil would have been by a magnitude of many over what we have today."

The dates for each stage of reopening are tentative. Idaho won't advance to the next stage if certain criteria are not met, as measured by the state's syndromic tracking and disease reporting systems. Those criteria are detailed in the Stages of Reopening page on the Idaho Rebounds website. They are also summarized below:

  • Downward trend or low numbers of COVID-19-like illness patient visits as tracked by emergency departments within a 14-day period.
  • Downward trend or low levels of COVID-19 cases reported within a 14-day period.
  • Health care facilities are able to treat all patients without needing to use crisis standards of care; also, availability of ventilators, intensive care unit beds and personal protective equipment.

Reliable measurements of COVID-19 trends depend on testing.

Gov. Little said Tuesday that a task force on testing will advise the Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare and the Coronavirus Working Group on how they can measure success against the pandemic.

"Have we had the testing capacity we would have liked? No, we haven't," said David Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare. "But I think that we are in a much better place today, and that's part of the reason we started this testing task force, to make sure we leverage that capacity in the best way possible."

A little more than 20,000 people in Idaho had been tested for COVID-19 as of Monday, according to the Idaho Division of Public Health's coronavirus website.

More than 80 percent of those tests were conducted by commercial laboratories.

Jeppesen said each COVID-19 test takes about four hours, and it now takes two to five days for results to be returned.

"We're getting much closer to two days on those tests," he said.

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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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