Ada County will make significant changes to the public health order in coordination with Central District Health, the agencies announced today. The decision came in a news conference in grave terms about the outbreak’s spread in the county.
“Our cases had remained relatively low through the beginning of June, but as of Monday June 15th, we saw a significant upward trend,” Central District Health’s Russ Duke said. “A decision was made to move Ada County into Stage Three by way of a public health order.”
Duke said due to the cluster of cases, bars must close as of the date of the order. This varies from the rest of the stage three guidelines. The order will go into effect at 12:01am this Wednesday – and remain in effect “until we see a consistent decline in cases,” Duke said.
The change will put the state’s largest population center at a more restrictive set of regulations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what the changes will mean:
- Nightclubs, which were allowed to reopen in stage four, now must close.
- Large venues must again close.
- Gatherings for more than 50 people would not be allowed. The limit was unlimited with proper distancing (but 250 people in Boise).
- Employers are again encouraged to allow telework, where possible.
- Anyone entering the area from out-of-state would be encouraged to self-quarantine for 14 days.
- Visits to senior care facilities would again be limited.
Restaurants will remain open for dine-in service, but bar top areas must close according to Duke. Drinks could be served to patrons via wait staff.
In recent days, the number of cases of COVID-19 continued to increase. However, the last death in the Boise metro area was on May 19th, and most hospital resources remain well within the guidelines set by the State of Idaho. Here’s our story based on data as of Friday morning.
‘A major outbreak’
“In the last several weeks, we’ve seen the cases in Ada County explode from 25 cases two weeks ago to 57 cases the week before last, and 303 in this last week,” Dr. Ted Epperly of the CDHD board said. “That’s a 500% increase in Ada County. That’s the highest number we’ve seen since the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Eperly said this is more than just a bar issue, but an issue of “active community spread.”
“This is a serious health issue we are facing in Ada County and in our region,” he said. “We are going to do what is necessary to keep people as safe as possible. We need to put our emergency rooms and hospitals on alert. The data is saying we are behind the eight ball, and that’s why the board of health is taking the actions that we are.”
Duke said right now, hospitals are “OK” in terms of capacity, but “that can change very quickly.”
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Several outbreaks are tied to bars in Downtown Boise, and to a lesser extent Meridian. A number of restaurants across the area voluntarily closed in the wake of outbreaks among staff members.
Many of the recent cases have been centered in younger people, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Duke said the district could consider requiring face coverings in public if the situation continues to worsen.
They said they will look for a multi-day steady decrease of cases before evaluating a move back to stage four.
What about Canyon County?
“Our communities are tied together by more than just a city line,” Ada Co. Commissioner Diana Lachiondo said. “I’ve been able to communicate with all the mayors in Ada County to share with them the health data and what the repercussions would be moving forward. We recognize this is hard. We recognize people are feeling COVID-19 fatigue. We need people to adhere to what CDH is setting out.”
“Ada and Canyon county has pretty much grown together,” Duke said. “Immediately after the board meeting, I let my colleague with SW District Health and she was going to communicate that to her board members as well as elected officials. I’m not sure what steps they may be taking. They were not seeing the intense clusters going on.”
Early in the pandemic, the City of Boise said it hoped to adopt an approach likened to a “faucet,” where resources would open up and officials would monitor the impacts and adjust. However, across the state, each of the four phases was achieved on the schedule initially set out by the governor’s office, with few to no increases in key statistics.
Bar owners ‘blindsided’
“This is a direct attack on the bars,” Jason Kovac with Silly Birch, Whiskey Bar and Tom Grainey’s said in a statement. “We followed all the protocols and guidance CDH set. We asked patrons to wear masks, some required them, we had hand sanitizer and our bars were so empty that all social distancing requirements were exceeded. Now, without any warning, we’re being told we have to shut down again. We have been blindsided.”
Duke said he understands how hard this is for business owners and employees.
“I completely understand how difficult this is for the bar owners as well as their employees,” Duke said. “Our responsibility is public health but we are not lost on the broader impact. We wish things could be different, no question about it. I know there are resources available through the state, and I would encourage those business owners and employees to seek assistance through those resources.”
Ada Co. Sheriff Steve Bartlett said they will work with Central District Health and work to provide a message to impacted businesses and people.
“We are very happy with the response so far,” Bartlett said. “We will work very closely with the state (Alcohol Beverage Control) group if we did not have someone cooperating with this order. I’m very hopeful we will get compliance.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Little’s office said individual areas can step back in the staged reopening if needed and at the discretion of those areas.