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'This is a very contagious virus': Health experts stress the importance of social distancing

Dr. Christine Hahn, a state epidemiologist, said one person can infect at least two other people with the coronavirus and social distancing can help slow the spread.

BOISE, Idaho — Even with social distancing guidelines in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus or COVID-19, some Idahoans are still staying close together. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state health officials and Governor Brad Little, have all strongly urged residents to practice social distancing. That includes groups of fewer than 10 people, staying at least six feet from others, avoiding going out as much as possible and staying home if you're feeling sick. The CDC also recommends those most vulnerable and those with compromised immune systems not go out at all. 

Even with those suggestions in place, some are choosing to ignore them. Over the weekend, the City of Boise parks saw a lot of traffic, with huge crowds not practicing social distancing from each other. 

Photos sent into KTVB also show large groups of people at Kirkham Hot Springs in Boise County. One witness tells KTVB they saw nearly 50 cars and more than 100 people in the hot springs over the weekend. 

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Health officials said while people can be outside and enjoy fresh air, it's still vital to practice social distancing and staying away from others while doing so. That includes things like running or hiking at a safe distance from others, utilizing more isolated routes or possibly moving to another area with fewer crowds. 

"We recommend at least six feet," said Dr. Christine Hahn, a state epidemiologist. "We know sometimes at home or maybe in certain work situations, that's not possible. But our recommendation is for everyone to be doing these measures in every setting.”

Hahn said it's important to follow CDC and other health guidelines because a person may not even know they're sick and being out and in close proximity to others, it allows the virus to spread further. 

“This is a very contagious virus," she said. "We’ve talked about that before. It’s more contagious than the flu. The average person who gets sick with this infects two other people. So we have to take it seriously – it's catching. And you don’t want to be the one to bring that to your loved one.”

Nate Poulson, president of Boise Anesthesia, also emphasizes the importance of social distancing from a medical standpoint. 

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Not only can a lack of social distancing allow the virus to spread - and spread quickly - but it can also overwhelm local healthcare systems because not only are they dealing with increasing COVID-19 patients, but also other common health problems. 

According to Poulson, approximately 1.5 million people feed into the Treasure Valley health care system.

He said based on statistics from other countries experiencing the virus, roughly six to eight percent of those who contract the virus will develop serious respiratory issues and require additional care, such as ventilators. 

If everyone is getting sick at the same time and in rapid succession due to a lack of social distancing, Poulson said hospital resources will be drained. 

That's what is happening in Italy, according to Poulson. So many people got sick at the same time, hospitals were overwhelmed and there weren't enough ventilators to go around. So health officials in Italy are having to decide who gets the medical resources and who doesn't.

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“In Boise and in all other areas of the U.S., we do not want to reach that scenario,” he said. 

That's why social distancing, and even social isolation when needed, is so key. The more people utilize CDC guidelines and practice social distancing, the more the spread of the virus can be slowed. 

“It’s absolutely critical that people take these orders seriously and stay away from other people,” he explained. 

On Monday afternoon, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean issued a social distancing order which applies to both indoor and outdoor venues - mandating the federal and state guidelines. The order goes into effect Tuesday at midnight and remains in effect for 30 days. 

Also on Monday, the City of Meridian closed its city playgrounds to an effort to curb the spread. 

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