BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Gov. Brad Little is moving the state into Stage 3 of his coronavirus reopening plan, lessening restrictions on the size of group gatherings as the rate of COVID-19 infections continues to drop statewide.
Little made the announcement Tuesday, urging residents to stay vigilant in working to slow the spread of the virus. You can watch the announcement below.
Under the Stage 3 Stay Healthy Guidelines
- Idaho remains open but with necessary limitations to protect lives, healthcare access, and the economy.
- Gatherings should be limited to 50 or fewer people. This does not apply to political and religious expression, educational activities, and health care related events such as COVID-19 testing or vaccination events. It does not apply to youth sporting events, as long as organizers comply with spectator plans administered by the Idaho State Board of Education.
- Face coverings are strongly recommended. Face coverings continue to be required for long-term care facilities.
- Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs should continue to operate with seating only.
- Everyone, including businesses, should follow physical distancing and sanitation recommendations.
- Large events, such as trade shows, weddings, and sporting venues with more than 50 people, may receive an exemption if the organizer submits an attestation to the local public health district confirming the event will follow necessary physical distancing and hygiene protocols as outlined in their safe operations plan.
"When we moved back to Stage 2 in November, case counts were spiking and hospitals were bracing for the worst," Little said in a prepared statement. "Today, thanks to our collective good efforts, those case counts are much lower and trending downward. Idaho now has one of the lowest rates of spread in the nation."
There were just under 434 new cases for every 100,000 Idaho residents in the past two weeks, ranking the state 35th in the country for new cases per capita, according to numbers from John Hopkins University. One in every 560 people in Idaho tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week.
Dr. Christine Hahn, the state epidemiologist, said a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 has been detected in states surrounding Idaho and will likely be detected within the state soon. Idaho doesn't have as much testing capability as many other states, and previously hasn't routinely tested for new COVID-19 variants, but officials are now testing for the new strains.
"We know that it is probably here," Hahn said. "We haven't detected it yet, but we should behave as if it's here or on its way."
Under Stage 3, gatherings should be limited to 50 or fewer people, instead of the previous 10-person limit. Political, religious, educational and health care related events are exempt from the size restriction, as are youth sports events as long as organizers follow guidelines set by the Idaho State Board of Education. Bars and nightclubs can continue to operate but patrons are expected to remain seated.
Masks are required at long-term care facilities, and are strongly recommended but not required elsewhere.
"We have learned a lot about COVID-19 over the past year, but one thing remains constant," Little said. "The more people you interact with - and the longer the interaction lasts - without wearing masks, the higher your potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and potentially spreading it to your loved ones."
Idaho has seen 1,735 COVID-19 related deaths to date, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. That death count is the 41st highest in the country overall and the 38th highest per capita at 98.9 deaths per 100,000 people.
Idaho has reported 162,683 positive tests out of 603,115 tests conducted since the pandemic began, giving a positivity rate of 27.0%, according to the COVID Tracking Project.