Gov. Brad Little is relaxing several restrictions on residents and businesses as Idaho moves into the second phase of his reopening plan starting Saturday.
“Thank you very much. Go get your hair cut Saturday at 12:01,” Little said in signing off his news conference Thursday.
Hair salons and dine-in restaurants will be allowed to reopen this weekend and groups of fewer than 10 people will be allowed to meet up publicly or privately.
Little also made another announcement. After weeks of pressure from fellow Republicans and business owners, he says he’ll allow bars to reopen two weeks earlier than originally allowed.
“I would rather loosen it up than tighten it up. I wanted to give everybody as much certainty as we possibly can and that’s a good reason,” he said. “And, to be real accurate about it, it’s a little hard to determine the difference between a restaurant and a bar.”
His second-in-command, Lt. Gov Janice McGeachin, has been critical of Little’s response to the pandemic, urging business owners to defy the phased-in approach.
She and Idaho Republican Party Chairman Raul Labrador traveled to Hardware Brewing in Kendrick earlier this month, celebrating their reopening in violation of the governor’s plan.
McGeachin owns The Celt Pub & Grill in Idaho Falls, which is slated to reopen on Saturday.
When asked Thursday whether the two were on speaking terms, Little replied, “Well, when we speak we are.”
The two haven’t spoken in at least three weeks, despite historically having a scheduled weekly call.
While venues aren’t allowed to hold large events until Phase Four, starting in mid-June at the earliest, Little said he wouldn’t take action against high schools in the state planning to still hold graduation ceremonies that will bring upwards of hundreds of people together.
Little said he’s also lifting a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people coming to Idaho from out of state, but is asking those coming from heavily infected areas to still do so.
“In the last couple of weeks, Idahoans have contracted the coronavirus from out-of-state visitors, demonstrating the importance of keeping some parameters on those who enter the state,” he said.
Consumer and employee confidence will be critical in kickstarting Idaho’s economy again, according to Little. With shortages of personal protective equipment across the U.S., state officials are trying to make that available to small businesses and nonprofits that are choosing to reopen at this time.
As of Thursday, when the website launched, no N95 masks were available. High amounts of inventory of disposable masks and sanitizer and medium inventory of cloth reusable masks and nitrile gloves were available.
While Little is accelerating the pace of Idaho’s four-phase reopening approach, his top epidemiologist, Dr. Christine Hahn, said it was “very likely” that Idaho, and the rest of the country, will see an increase in coronavirus cases later this fall.
Despite that, Hahn said businesses, schools and governments should begin making plans on how to deal with a potential surge without closing.
“Even with more cases coming, we may be able to not have to go all the way back to a complete shutdown,” she said.
As of Thursday afternoon, Idaho had 2,126 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 69 deaths. 212 people have been hospitalized, with 88 of them admitted to the intensive care unit.
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