Little moves Idaho into Stage 2 of reopening: Restaurants, gyms, salons back in business
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Little moves Idaho into Stage 2 of reopening: Restaurants, gyms, salons back in business

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Gov. Little talks Idaho rebound

Gov. Brad Little speaks to city officials and the media about opening back up businesses around the state Friday, May 1, 2020, at Rudy's - A Cook's Paradise in downtown Twin Falls.

BOISE — As some Idahoans begin to lose patience and some businesses openly defy government orders, the governor said Thursday that the state will move forward with its four-step reopening plan.

Republican Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that Idaho will move into Stage 2 of Idaho Rebounds on Saturday, as previously scheduled. He also made waves by moving bars from Stage 4 to 3, meaning they might be able to reopen at the end of May rather than in mid-June.

Stage 1 took effect two weeks ago, allowing retail and other businesses to reopen, and Stage 2 allows restaurants, salons and indoor gyms to reopen, as long as the businesses meet specific health and safety protocols. Restaurants will be able to have dine-in seating both inside and on patios for the first time since mid-March, although social distancing and stringent cleaning rules must be followed. Many Boise eateries have voiced their worries about opening right away and plan to wait till June.

“We are one of the first states to reopen our economy,” Little said.

The Idaho Rebounds plan indicated that restaurants could reopen dining areas once they submitted plans to their local health department, but the district that includes Boise, Meridian and Eagle said that’s not required. Instead, districts have issued health guidelines for restaurants to follow.

Idaho state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn clarified during the press conference that restaurant plans do not need to be approved before reopening. Restaurants may open Saturday and the health district will reach out to them if there are any problems with the plans or other concerns, she said.

Little acknowledged that Idaho will not be back to normal, but he hoped to help 95 percent of businesses reopen on Saturday.

“Concerns about safety have caused astronomical economic disruptions,” Little said Thursday. “Assuring safety assures confidence, and confidence assures prosperity.”

Little said that businesses will be able to request a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE, to reopen. That includes masks, gloves and sanitizer to protect their workers and customers.

“This program is designed to help Idaho small businesses open safely and successfully,” he said. “And to be a bridge while the supply chain normalizes.”

Small businesses can go to supplies.idaho.gov to apply for the equipment.

Bars and nightclubs — as well as larger venues such as movie theaters and sports arenas — will remain closed for now. Bars have, however, been moved up to Stage 3, putting them on track for May 30 openings as long as state virus guidelines are met.

Visits to senior care facilities, jails and prisons remain off-limits.

Little said his decision to hasten the reopening of bars — which drew several questions — was based on science, not political pressure.

“As we looked at our success, we thought we could move some of these things up. That’s why we did that,“ he said.

On April 30, Little announced Idaho would enter Stage 1 of the state’s four-stage reopening plan. In addition to retail businesses, this allowed places of worship and child care facilities to reopen — again, as long as health measures were put in place for staff and visitors.

Little urged Idaho residents to keep going with preventative measures, such as wearing face masks in public. Both he and Hahn acknowledged that the coronavirus could have a resurgence in the fall, or even sooner.

“We will be working very hard in the coming months to try to get ready for the fall,” Hahn said. “If we don’t see a resurgence, nobody will be happier about it than us. We don’t want to have that happen. We’re going to do everything we can to prevent it, but I think it’s important for us to expect that it’s possible.”

She said she does worry that some Idahoans think, “Oh, it’s over.”

“We don’t think that’s the case; we don’t know that we’re going to be living back to normal for a long time,” Hahn said.

Instead, she stressed the importance of social distancing, wearing masks and continuing to be very hygienic.

Continuing precautions

Idahoans should continue to practice physical distancing during Stage 2 when possible, a point that was stressed throughout the press conference.

Those dining at restaurants will likely notice tables spread farther apart. Gyms will have machines and workout areas spaced out.

Anyone who can continue to work from home should do so. If employers need to have employees working on site, work should be done in phases to practice physical distancing and means of sanitation should be made available, according to the Idaho Rebounds website.

Vulnerable Idaho residents should continue to self-isolate, Little said, and those living with vulnerable people should still be mindful of potentially spreading the virus at home and take precautions.

Everyone should minimize nonessential travel and adhere to CDC guidelines for travel. Those who enter Idaho from another state should continue to self-isolate for 14 days, the governor said.

Schools and graduations

One reporter asked Little on Thursday about high schools that are still planning to hold graduation ceremonies, knowing that it is a direct violation of his reopening plans because it would be such a large gathering. Minico High School, for example, had planed to host a graduation ceremony on May 21. The school has 190 seniors.

Kevin Richert, a reporter for Idaho Education News, asked whether Little was “contemplating any action regarding public events at public school buildings?”

“No, next question,” Little flatly said.

Coronavirus in Idaho

As of Wednesday, Idaho has 2,128 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 69 reported deaths.

Cases have been confirmed in 33 of Idaho’s 44 counties, 13 of which have also found cases transmitted through community spread.

The number of cases has steadily grown since Little announced the Idaho Rebounds process. When Little announced the plan on April 30, Idaho had 1,864. Since that press conference, the state’s case count has grown by 264.

Criticism of Little from fellow Republicans

In a guest opinion column published Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin wrote that government needs to get out of the way and let Idaho reopen.

“I lose sleep at night because the heavy hand of our government is hurting so many Idahoans,” McGeachin wrote. “Idahoans were sidelined and left to watch silently as the government closed Main Street by unilaterally deciding which businesses were ‘essential’ and which ones were not.”

She also condemned how businesses are at risk of losing licenses if they choose to defy the governor and open their doors early. However, so far no action has been taken against any bar or restaurant violating the order.

This isn’t the first time McGeachin has spoken out against Little. Last month she was one of several elected leaders to speak via video at a Rexburg “All Jobs are Essential Car Rally.”

Multiple reporters asked Little on Thursday about his relationship with McGeachin. He said they hadn’t spoken in three weeks, but said his office and her office are in communication.

When asked whether they were on speaking terms, Little said, “When we speak we are.”

As in other states, the governor’s actions to safeguard residents has drawn the ire of political groups on the right. Groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation have been vocal in their displeasure with Little’s decision to enact mandatory orders for residents to stay home and businesses to close. The frustration culminated with several hundred protesters, many of them armed, congregating on the steps of the Idaho Capitol last month.

Around Idaho, many businesses have reopened early — with no repercussions. Some places, like Idaho City, have quietly been open for weeks, as struggling business owners say they are tying to make ends meet. Bars in Nampa reopened May 1, and the city’s mayor said businesses that violated Little’s order would not be cited.

One of the bars that reopened, Firehouse Sports Pub, has now closed its doors again. A post on the business’ Facebook page reads, “Sorry guys, but can not fight the government.” The pub hopes to reopen in June.

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