Bars and large venues in Ada County must close starting Wednesday due to a rash of coronavirus cases spreading like wildfire in the area.
Three weeks ago, 25 coronavirus cases were reported in Ada County, according to Central District Health. The following week? 57. And last week? 303.
“That, in perspective, is the highest number we’ve seen of coronavirus infections since the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Ted Epperly, a board member of Central District Health.
The majority of the Ada County cases are 18-29 year olds – many of whom won’t show symptoms. Health officials have reported clusters of infections stemming from young adults visiting several bars in downtown Boise earlier this month, though they stressed those aren’t the only places where the disease is being transmitted.
Epperly said every infected person in the county right now can spread it to seven others.
“You can just imagine the multiplication factor of this,” he said.
During the beginning stages of the pandemic across the country, an infected person could transmit the virus to 2.5 other people, Epperly said.
As of Monday morning, Idaho’s statewide transmission rate was 1.19, according to rt.live, a model funded by the founders of Instagram using data from The COVID Tracking Project.
Available hospital bed space, one of the key metrics used by state health officials to determine whether the health care system can handle a surge, is currently “OK” in Ada County, according to Central District Health Director Russell Duke.
“They are not concerned about the ability to treat [COVID-19] patients. But as we’ve seen in other cities across the country, as well as here in Idaho in Blaine County, that can change really quickly,” Duke said.
To combat this surge in cases, Central District Health is urging residents to not let up on their vigilance: wash your hands, wear a face covering when out in public and stay at least six feet away from others when possible.
Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo (D), who’s also on the health board, said she understands people are tired of being cooped up.
“But, unfortunately, the virus is not fatigued and it is still here in our community and it has accelerated rapidly,” Lachiondo said.
In addition to bars, night clubs and large venues being shuttered, residents won’t be able to visit friends or loved ones at nursing homes. Vulnerable people are also encouraged to self-isolate for the time being and gatherings of more than 50 people – public or private – will be prohibited in Ada County.
Movie theaters, which were moved up in Gov. Brad Little’s (R) reopening plan along with bars, will still be allowed to open under this order.
The metrics and criteria Central District Health will use to lift – or potentially even tighten up – these restrictions were not immediately available. Duke said those will soon be released publicly.
“It will remain in effect until we see a consistent and sustained decline in cases,” he said.
Face coverings will still be voluntary for those going out in public, but Duke said they may become mandatory in the future if cases continue to rise.
The rest of Idaho won’t have to adhere to these restrictions. Aside from Ada County, the other 43 counties will still be in the final stage of the governor’s reopening plan. Little is expected to announce the handing off of the state's coronavirus response later this week by taking a more regional approach.
In a press release, downtown Boise bar owners slammed the decision.
“This is a direct attack on the bars,” said Jason Kovac, who owns Silly Birch, Whiskey Bar and Tom Grainey’s. “We followed all the protocols and guidance [Central District Health] set.”
The state never mandated any restrictions for bar owners when it released suggested guidelines for the industry. The only requirement was for each business to have a plan on how it would limit exposure of the virus to its employees and customers.
Those plans aren’t required to be submitted to any government agency and don’t need to be approved by anyone.
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