PHD: Coronavirus cases jump over weekend

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | June 22, 2020 11:21 PM

Up to 14 in Bonner County

The number of coronavirus cases in North Idaho climbed by 15 over the weekend, bringing the total since the COVID-19 pandemic started to 164, Panhandle Health District officials said Monday.

Kootenai County climbed 13 over the weekend to reach 128 Monday — double in five weeks from when restaurants, salons and gyms reopened May 16 under Gov. Brad Little’s Rebound Idaho plan. There are 44 active cases in the county.

The Panhandle Health District there are 13 cases in Benewah County, six of which are active; 14 in Bonner County — 7 of which are active; and 9 undetermined. Shoshone and Boundary counties have no cases.

There are 57 active cases in Idaho’s panhandle. Overall, there have been 16 total hospitalizations, including one current case, and 107 cases are no longer being monitored.

Health officials have said they expected to see an increase in cases as the economy reopened.

“The precautions remain the same, but we need our community to continue practicing them,” wrote Katherine Hoyer, PHD spokeswoman, on Monday. “Wear cloth face coverings while in public, keep 6 feet between yourself and others, wash your hands as often as possible, sanitize high-touch surfaces regularly. We know that these precautions can help slow the spread of this virus. We urge everyone to remain diligent.”

PHD reported the area’s first death, an individual from Kootenai County in his 70s, related to COVID-19 on Monday.

On May 16, PHD reported 68 coronavirus cases, with 64 in Kootenai County. On May 30, bars were allowed to reopen. Idaho entered stage four on June 13, which allowed nightclubs and large venues to open.

The Central District Health and Board of Health on Monday ordered Ada County to return to Stage 3 operations. During a press conference, the total cases in Ada County was said to be 1,256, up nearly 100 over two days.

The order will mirror Idaho’s Stage 3 criteria with the exception bars not being allowed to operate.

“This is not a decision that has been taken lightly, but we feel it is absolutely necessary and the time is right now,” CDH Director Russ Duke said in a story in the Idaho Statesman. “We recognize the impact this pandemic is having on our communities.”

CDH considered requiring face coverings in Ada County, Duke said.

“Right now, we are going to rely on voluntary compliance — wear face coverings when individuals are out in public — but it may come to that at some point,” Duke said in the report.

Idaho’s advances in telehealth and healthcare access this year will be preserved long after COVID-19 with a new executive order Gov. Brad Little signed today.

“Our loosening of healthcare rules since March helped to increase the use of telehealth services, made licensing easier, and strengthened the capacity of our healthcare workforce – all necessary to help our citizens during the global pandemic,” Little said. “We proved we could do it without compromising safety. Now it’s time to make those healthcare advances permanent moving forward.”

Within days of Idaho’s first confirmed coronavirus case in March, Little directed all state agencies to examine their rules, placing specific emphasis on increasing the state’s healthcare provider capacity and reducing barriers to healthcare access for Idaho citizens.

The result was more than 150 rules were waived temporarily. Executive Order 2020-13 signed Monday takes steps to make the rule waivers permanent by asking the agencies to finalize the rule changes for presentation to the Idaho Legislature in January.

“By suspending certain rules during the pandemic — such as allowing the use of Zoom, Facetime and other applications and making it easier for providers to offer telehealth services – we’ve been able to address the critical shortage of medical providers in every county in the state. This serves to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for Idaho families and businesses,” Little said.