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'Please stay home, please stay healthy': Here's how Ada County is handling COVID-19

Public officials from the assessor's office to the Ada County Paramedics are making adjustments.

BOISE, Idaho — The spread of the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus has forced many Idahoans to make changes to their daily routines, including working from home in some cases, canceling events, or limiting social contact with other people. 

Official departments in Ada County, from the sheriff's office to the treasurer are having to make adjustments as well in ways big and small. Ada County Commissioner Kendra Kenyon said those changes are going to affect local residents, but stressed that county officials are meeting the challenges head-on.

"You can be confident in their abilities: I have seen them work tirelessly around the clock every single day, including the weekends," she said.  

See our latest coverage of coronavirus in Idaho, including the number of confirmed cases, here.

On Tuesday, there were three of Idaho's 8 confirmed cases were in Ada County.  

According to Russ Duke, the director of Central District Health, all three of those cases are travel-related. 

"We do not have community spread at this time," he said during the Tuesday press conference. 

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Still, officials say they are doing what they can to limit the virus' spread and position themselves to respond to a more severe scope of outbreak. 

Steve Boyenger, the director of Ada County Paramedics said his employees and those who work at the fire departments "truly the front lines in this health crisis." 

His focus has been on how to keep those first responders safe. 

"The public may notice the increasing use of PPEs - masks, goggles, gowns - on just regular routine calls," he said. "That's not because we suspect a COVID virus necessarily, it's because we want to keep not only our people safe, but keep the citizens of this county safe." 

Emergency operations, including 911 are running as usual. Boyenger said the Ada County Paramedics are working with the emergency management office to come up with plans for what to do if they need to operate with a significantly limited staff, or if 911 begins fielding an overwhelming number of calls. 

Ada County Sheriff Steve Bartlett said law enforcement operations and his office's civil duties- like evictions - are still taking place.

"All of our functions and our offices are still open," he said.

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The one exception to that, according to the sheriff, is the Ada County Drivers License Office, which was shut down Monday evening until March 31. Extensions will be granted to everyone whose license is set to expire between now and the end of May. 

The courthouse will also largely be off-limits to the public, with the exception of jurors, witnesses, victims, and other people directly involved in a case. 

Prosecutor Jan Bennetts said support staff is working from home where possible, and her office is working to contact victims and witnesses by phone so they do not physically have to come into the courthouse. 

Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said that criminal cases will proceed, but court calendars are being cleared of most civil and "non-essential" cases. In addition, the deadline for citations will be extended, giving people more time to pay fines. 

McGrane said the county is already looking ahead to the May primary election, and wants to encourage absentee voting. 

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"This is a unique circumstance and it's a great opportunity to be able to vote at home and keep yourself safe while still being an active part of our democracy," he said.  

Another county office, the Ada County Assessor's Office, will also be closed to the public, with most employees working from home or out in the field, Assessor Robert McQuade said.

He urged residents to remember that the deadline for both the homeowners' exemption applications and property tax reduction applications is April 15. That deadline is set by statute, and would have to be pushed back on the state level, he said. 

McQuade said applicants could download those forms online, or call his office to have it sent to them. Employees can help people fill it out over the phone if they are having trouble, he said.

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"The most important thing I would really like to get across, especially to the elderly who are looking for the property tax reduction... is if you don't do anything else, download the form and just sign it." 

That way, he said, the applicant will not miss the April 15 deadline to qualify. 

Officials urged residents to look out for one another and follow the health department guidelines to limit contact with other people. 

"Please stay home, please stay healthy. Try to avoid any kind of gatherings at all," Kenyon said. "But we are really privileged to live in a great state - the great state of Idaho where we have all this natural beauty and the great outdoors, so that does not prohibit you from being outside in the sunshine and the fresh air." 

"If we continue to work together in unity, we're going to get through this," she added.

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