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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

CDH Could Drop Ada County To 'Moderate Risk' Category Next Week, Reopen Bars, Schools

Troy Oppie
Boise State Public Radio

After initially saying no to Boise bar owners’ requests to reopen, the Central District Health board Thursday said yes.

Board members voted to approve the reopening of bars at the same time as schools can reopen. Local school districts have reopening plans requiring the county be in category 2 moderate risk. Ada County has been classified as category 3 high risk, but that could change as soon as next week according to district health director Russell Duke.

“I don't want to say that for absolute certain because things could change over the next couple of days. But our data so far looks really good," he said.

Eight Boise bar owners had asked Central District Health to treat them like restaurants and allow reopening with strict measures like social distancing, masks and limited capacities.

Former state attorney general David Leroy represented them.

“All of the governor's standards in stage four are covered and adequately addressed here,” Leroy told the health district board.

He said owners were willing to enforce mask compliance on sidewalks outside — to the extent allowed — with bar security, but pushed back on a question about operating with limited hours.

“We believe we can commit to the enforceable standards at 7 o'clock at night, at 9 o'clock at night, and then 1:00 a.m. in the morning.” Leroy said of his clients. “That is our commitment.”

Duke said, despite daily case numbers above the target for reopening bars, hospitalizations were down and he approved of the proposal. He called it “well thought-out,” noting that contact tracing of outbreaks could lead back to bars and result in closures.

“I think if the bars do their job, which they're requesting the opportunity to do, using security staff to enforce the orders, it's my recommendation to give them that opportunity,” Duke told the health board.

Instead, enough board members balked at reopening bars ahead of schools and the proposal was denied in a roll call vote.

Board Chairwoman Betty Ann Nettleton was prepared at that point to adjourn the meeting, but board member Diana Lachiondo proposed a substitute motion to allow bars to reopen — with district health approval — at the same time as schools.

That motion passed unanimously without substantial board discussion.

District health director Duke said the process determining COVID-19 risk categories — minimum, moderate and substantial — is going to be simplified.

He expects Ada County to be lowered from category three substantial risk, down to category two as early as September 8. That move would allow schools to initiate reopening plans, and based on Thursday’s approval, bars could follow suit.

School districts can use their own evaluation processes, but most rely on local health districts to determine the risk level. Districts have pre-determined potential reopening dates if local health districts determine risk of community spread of COVID-19 is moderate or lower in the weeks proceeding potential reopening.

Duke did not say if the simplification of the risk categories impacted the expected drop in Ada County’s risk classification.

Bar owners contacted by Boise State Public Radio declined to comment on Thursday’s decision.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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