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Gov. Little issues order for Idahoans to stay home as coronavirus spreads


Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Wednesday ordered Idahoans to stay mostly at home as he ramps up efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The order will last for 21 days. Essential activities, like going to grocery stores or picking up food from restaurants, still are allowed. Outdoor exercise near home is, too, with an emphasis on 6-foot spacing between individuals who aren’t members of the same household.

The order was released late Wednesday afternoon and took effect immediately. Idaho is the 20th state to issue such an order, according to New York Times research.

“Idaho is now in a new stage with confirmed community transmission now occurring in Idaho’s most densely populated areas,” Little said while making the announcement at Gowen Field at the Boise Airport. “… We absolutely have to have this take place.”

Among the activities exempted from the order are health care, public safety and other essential work. Businesses that don’t provide essential services “must take all steps necessary for employees to work remotely from home,” according to the governor’s office guidance. Restaurant dining rooms will be closed statewide, but takeout and delivery can continue.

“I encourage all of us to support our neighborhood establishments,” Little said.

[Related: Confirmed coronavirus cases in Idaho top 140 on Wednesday]

Kevin Settles, who owns Bardenay restaurants and distilleries in Boise and Eagle, and Coyne’s restaurant in Eagle, closed all locations March 17 as a precaution. He said he plans to reopen Coyne’s on Friday offering to-go orders only, and wants to follow suit with Bardenay in Boise next week.

“I think it makes sense,” he said of the governor’s order. “In certain areas, it’s not that hard to keep your distance. But some places, you just can’t do it. I’m comfortable with it. I like the fact he kind of put a timeline on it to expect, to hope, to be open again.”

People at higher risk of severe illness — those over 65 or who are “health-compromised” — “should avoid leaving their homes,” according to the governor’s office.

Businesses that can stay open include grocery stores, health care facilities, pharmacies, utilities, gas stations, laundromats, financial institutions, residential- and home-based care, veterinary services, hardware stores, child care for essential workers, infrastructure and “other businesses essential to the safety and well-being of the residents.”

All businesses and government agencies must cease “nonessential operations” at physical locations across Idaho. All nonessential travel must cease.

Little’s order creates a misdemeanor option for those who violate the rules, but he was vague about potential enforcement.

“Peer pressure from the communities is always our first preference,” Little said. “We will look at each instance case by case. … My goal is to get full compliance.”

Patrons lined the sidewalk in front of the state liquor store at 17th and State streets, more or less practicing the required 6 feet of social distancing, after Gov. Brad Little ordered Idahoans to stay at home except for essential business. Liquor stores are expected to remain open, Little said. Katherine Jones

Little’s action came less than 24 hours after the announcement that at least one confirmed coronavirus case in Ada County was the result of community spread. Blaine County previously had experienced community spread, and the Panhandle Health District in North Idaho indicated Wednesday afternoon that one of the nine cases in Kootenai County likely was from community spread.

The latest Kootenai case, announced at 1 p.m. Mountain on Wednesday, was the 100th confirmed case in Idaho for the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. It was 12 days from Idaho’s first case to its 100th, and just three days from its 50th to its 100th.

Blaine County already was under an Order to Self-Isolate that Little issued last week once community spread was established.

“The compliance is really high,” he said.

Little expressed concern about the economic impact of his statewide stay-at-home order, which has been visible across the country as states take similar actions. He was asked specifically about small-business owners and people who live paycheck to paycheck.

“That’s an incredible concern,” he said. “… My message is, we are going to do all we can to help.”

The governor said he worries about small businesses failing and damage to the social well-being of citizens.

“I’m afraid some of that is going to happen, we’re just trying to minimize it all we can,” he said.

Little had drawn criticism locally and nationally for not taking more significant action against the novel coronavirus, but he defended his approach at Wednesday’s press conference. He also signed an “extreme emergency declaration” that gives the state additional tools to slow the spread of the virus.

“I’ve been in daily contact with our state’s public health experts, who’ve been guiding me in my decisions about the state’s response,” Little said. “The experts tell us that the timing of decisions are extremely important. Every state is in a different stage. I am confident that the decisions that we have made in Idaho, over the past few weeks and months, have been solidly grounded in the advice of epidemiologists and our infectious disease experts.”

On Tuesday night, Central District Health and Southwest District Health announced the first community transmission case in the Treasure Valley in a joint press release. Community spread or transmission is defined as illness within a community that lacks connection to travel or other confirmed cases, according to the health districts’ release.

Of the 24 confirmed coronavirus cases in Ada County through Tuesday afternoon, one was labeled community transmission and one was pending investigation. The other 22 Ada cases were associated with travel, according to Central District Health. Ada’s total number of cases was up to 39 as of late Wednesday afternoon.

“There is no way for definitive source identification with travel-related cases,” CDH Public Information Officer Christine Myron wrote in an email to the Idaho Statesman. “We rely on a person’s travel history in conjunction with information like symptom onset to determine the likely acquisition risks.”

Reporters Rachel Roberts and Michael Deeds contributed.

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