Idaho is five days into the state's phased re-opening. More retail businesses are opening up, and houses of worship are allowed to open. But some business owners are choosing to violate the state's plan by reopening early. Speaking on Idaho Matters Wednesday, Gov. Brad Little (R) says these violations are "incredibly disrespectful" to the majority of businesses that are following the rules.
Little says the state will consider revoking a professional, or other Idaho-issued licenses should a business not follow his phased in reopening plan.
"If it's a cosmetologist or somebody that has a liquor license, they are putting their license at risk," he says.
Under the governor’s plan, most businesses were allowed to reopen last Friday. Barbershops and hair salons won’t be able to open until at least May 16 under the plan, while bars have to wait until at least mid-June.
Like Little’s previous stay-at-home order, his phased in plan is enforceable as a misdemeanor, though it seems only one citation to a woman running a yard sale has been issued so far.
But not everyone in executive leadership at the state is on the same page as the governor. Last week, Lt. Gov. McGeachin traveled to the small town of Kendrick, nearly 300 miles north of Boise, to celebrate the reopening of Hardware Brewing. Bars are not allowed to open until at least mid-June under the governor’s plan.
In a post on Facebook, she said an Idaho State Police detective gave the business a warning – something she said shouldn’t have happened.
Idaho Matters host Gemma Gaudette asked Little how he can effectively carry out his reopening plan when his second-in-command rejects it.
"Well, it doesn't make it easier. I can tell you that."
The office of the lieutenant governor is a separate elected position in Idaho and isn’t always occupied by an ally of the governor.
Little also added that he hasn’t spoken to her in weeks.
"We traditionally had a scheduled, weekly call. But for some reason her schedule hasn't been favorable to us to having the call in the last two weeks," the governor says.
McGeachin’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the full transcript of the interview with Little here:
GAUDETTE: You're listening to Idaho Matters. I'm Gemma Gaudette. Idaho is five days into our phased reopening, with more retail businesses opening up, houses of worship being able to open. However many other restrictions, they are still in place in this first phase. Joining us today is Governor Brad Little. Welcome back to the program, Governor.
LITTLE: Nice to be on, Gemma.
GAUDETTE: So, we know that CDC guidelines say that opening should happen after two weeks of declines, and that includes emergency room visits being down. So you've said that we met those criteria to begin Phase 1 of your four-phase reopening, we should note. So how did you come to the decision to to open on Friday, May 1st, in that first phase?
LITTLE: Well, we got over all the hurdles of the gating criteria that we'd established. Ours aren't exactly the same as the federal government, because we don't have -- given our big open spaces, we don't have as good a testing capacity as we'd like to have. But the areas where we don't have testing capacity, to our knowledge, we don't have any confirmed cases there. So that's why we established Idaho-centric criteria based on the CDC guidance and we met those criteria.
GAUDETTE: And I would say that I think some people are a little bit confused about the decision to allow houses of worship to reopen last weekend in that first phase. I mean, because the directive still doesn't allow for any public or private gatherings in Phase 1. So what was that decision and what was it based on to allow these houses of worship to to reopen in this very first phase?
LITTLE: Well, the goal is to not have community spread. And that's probably why nightclubs and big events are in the last criteria, and houses of worship are in the first. I've been on two or three calls with multiple faith leaders from around the state. And believe me, they are doing all they can to maintain social distancing, to maintain hygiene, to advise their congregations to space out over multiple services. That's just the very nature of faith-based versus some of those other categories. We calibrated that the risk there was less because it's in their best interest -- very much their best interest -- to make sure that they don't have spread among their parishioners. And it was based on the risk of spread.
GAUDETTE: And with that being said, if for some reason -- and hopefully this would not happen -- but if there were, let's say, an outbreak of COVID-19 and it went back to one of these houses of worship, would you look at then taking that away, that directive away, and making these houses of worship close again?
LITTLE: Well, everything is from a magnitude standpoint. If we overrun one of our criteria a little bit -- unless it's our biggest criteria, which is a hospital capacity for a respiratory patients -- if it's a little bit, you know, we'll sit down and tighten up the guidance, tighten up the regulations as best we can. I mean, if somebody were to gather 50,000 people together for a non-controlled event, that would be a real possibility of a significant spread. But the guidance that we gave them about social distancing, about what their capacity is, if they're complying with that, I'm quite confident that we will not have significant spread, given the criteria that they have to live with.
GAUDETTE: Well, we should note a lot of houses of worship, even though they could help and chose not to reopen in this phase.
LITTLE: And in the ones that did, you know, if they normally have one or two services, they might have had four just to maintain their spacing. They had ushers. They had ushers with name tags. They all went in at the same, you know, different spaces going in. One of the things we do in my parish is we exchange a piece where we all smile and shake hands. They're all avoiding that, those that offer sacraments are doing it in a very sanitary way. So I'm not that worried about the faith community that I've been communicating with.
GAUDETTE: And then if all goes well, more businesses, including restaurants, being able to allow dine-in, salons reopening, that would all happen in Phase 2, which would then be May 16th. However, we've already seen some businesses defying this Phase 1 order. Are there going to be any consequences for these business owners for defying this? You know, an example would be the governor of Arizona made it very clear to restaurants opening before they're supposed to, saying that their liquor license will be in jeopardy if they do that. I mean, will there be any repercussions if they are outright defying these phases?
LITTLE: The short answer is yes. The long answer is I believe that the communities that those outliers -- and I don't know that we've had one that I know for sure. There's always rumors of some of them. And then the rumors tend to not necessarily come to fruition in some instances. I've had to call and visit with the mayors and some of those communities. First off, it's incredibly disrespectful to the rest of the community. Most people in Idaho, the vast majority of people I know, have made incredible sacrifices over the last 70 days in their behavior, in having their children or grandchildren out of school and in their incomes, which had been incredible sacrifices. And is it fair for one person out of protest or two or three to do that and increase the risk of spread to the detriment of everybody else?
And second off, from a from a business standpoint, competitively, it's unfair. You're saying that the one entity has chance to profit from the other ones being closed down. And what we're seeing in reality is in communities where one business says they're going to do this. One of the things that Dave Jeppesen says is high-spread areas will move to low-spread. So if you've got an area where you're concerned and you're going, 'Brad's Bar and Grill is opening, we're going to go there,' the people around Brad's Bar and Grill are not very excited about people whose behavior is non-compliant moving into their area. So I think the combination of those things are all going to help. And finally, if their license, if it's a cosmetologist or somebody that has a liquor license, they are putting their license at risk.
GAUDETTE: And this is not a rumor. But we know he's in the midst of all of this, the lieutenant governor, Janice McAnn, she has been seen posing with business owners, defying the phased reopening order. I mean, how do you feel about that? I mean, how difficult is it to move through this and to lead the way that you've been leading when there was not a united front?
LITTLE: Well, it doesn't make it easier, I can tell you that.
GAUDETTE: Yeah, I bet it doesn't.
GAUDETTE: And what would you hope, though, with this? I mean, going back to what you said, even about these businesses potentially defying this, when you have someone within your cabinet basically going against your wishes, I mean, that's not a great message and that is no reflection upon you when your leadership. I mean, it is a reflection on what she is choosing to do.
LITTLE: As an independent, duly-elected constitutional officer, that's her... She has that right. And I don't advocate for it. And it's not helpful, as you pointed out.
GAUDETTE: Have you talked to her about this?
LITTLE: We've traditionally had a scheduled weekly call, but for some reason, her schedule hasn't been favorable to us having the call the last two weeks.
GAUDETTE: Let's talk a little bit about testing capacity. Because we know, you know, testing capacity, rapid testing, widespread testing... What's the plan for that as we move forward? Because it kind of seems like in order for us to have -- I hate to use the word normal, but -- some sense of normalcy as we move into the fall, we need to make sure that we have those those capabilities.
LITTLE: Well, [when] we started we could test a grand total of about 12 or 14 people a day. That was the internal state capacity. And that was before we had agreements with out-of-state labs and before some of our major hospitals got in testing equipment. Over the last 70 or 80 days, we have vastly increased our testing capacity. And now our testing committee that we're trying to get it out to all of Idaho and some of the rural areas, some of the areas that don't think they have any virus. But until we get a little more testing, we won't know for sure. And, of course, this will ebb and flow, but simultaneously have to have tracing, because if somebody is found to have contracted the virus, then we need to find out who all they've been in contact with. Our very first case in Idaho -- the confirmed case -- was here in the Boise Valley. And that person that came back from the East Coast and we got around and touched base with all their contacts. They self-quarantined, self-isolated. And we got along fine. In the Blaine County area where we had community spread before we hardly knew it, it was a much bigger problem. So that's why that contact tracing is so important. So anything we do in testing has to have a simultaneous effort in contact tracing. And we are working on that. We're going to put significant resources into it. And it's going to tie with our testing.
GAUDETTE: And I believe that the health district said that they're ready for that contact tracing, correct?
LITTLE: Yes. Well, they put in a request. Part of our CARES money, that will go into assisting them. But that's what they do. They've done that for rubella or for measles and AIDS and a lot of the other diseases. So that's what they're good at. And we will rely on them.
GAUDETTE: Do you feel like we're on track to start Phase 2 come May 16th?
LITTLE: I hope so. I don't see any reason why not. But as a lot of people said this, this is such a sneaky virus because people will be infected with it and they won't show any symptoms. Some don't show hardly any symptoms at all and some don't show enough symptoms that you'd want to test until several days into it. And that's why it's different than the flu and a lot of the other viruses that we're familiar with because people show the symptoms almost from the get go. And they don't. And that's part of the complications of COVID-19 virus.
GAUDETTE: So with that being said, what are your thoughts on on putting maybe a requirement in place for people being required to wear masks in public? I mean, we know that know the city of Denver implemented that. However, in Oklahoma, the governor rolled that back after, frankly, a lot of pushback on making that a requirement and not a recommendation.
LITTLE: Well, that's a big stretch. But I remember travelling and going into an airport and seeing a lot of people in masks and I, full disclosure, I kind of pooh poohed it a little bit. As we learned about this, as we learn how infectious this disease is, I think it'll get to be much more acceptable and it'll go from being acceptable to be required. That people will go to facilities where they think their risk of being exposed is less. And everybody there was a mask. So from the onset, almost everything we've done in Idaho have been suggestions and people have complied. And I think the use of masks will be more and more prevalent. And it's actually very critical for us going forward. You know what are we going to do in the school? We know we can't, particularly little kids, that's going to be impossible. And what do we do about teachers? Those are all things we're going to have to work for. But I am confident it's going to be more and more acceptable. And then at some point time, it may become a societal norm that people do. Now, you and I watch the news and I see these reporters standing out in the wide open spaces and nobody around with a mask on. I'm going, "they're making a point" and I get that. But really, they're not a risk of -- unless the cameraman is standing within four feet of them -- of being a problem. But they're trying to make the point. And and I understand that. But I believe masks are going to be more and more -- I've got two of them about a foot from me right now here in my office.
GAUDETTE: Well, and it goes back, Governor, I think, to when should something be a requirement versus a recommendation? And, you know, the point being, is it within enclosed areas? Right. Like going into a grocery store, because I mean, I see people wearing masks on. I would say I would say it's 50/50 right now with with that, at least in places that I've gone into a grocery store. If people don't comply, I mean, will, at some point, you feel the need to say, look, you just have to do this.
LITTLE: Well, that's one way to do it. The other way of doing it is if you're a retailer or a restaurant. Now, I don't know how anybody eats with a mask on.
GAUDETTE: I don't either.
LITTLE: But, you know, our protocols for restaurants are that people are going to have six-foot distance. We're not going to have big tables. And and, you know, the standards for working there are, you know. Temperature, are you not feeling well? We'll get around that. But, you know, you cannot go into a restaurant and have a mask on and eat.
GAUDETTE: So before you go, you announced just last week $3 million in cash grants will be made available to Idaho small businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19. And this is part of the federal money that Idaho has received. And you've released, I believe, the full eligibility criteria and process for small businesses to apply for what's being called the Idaho Rebound Cash Grant. Can you talk about why you decided to take some of that money and do this? I mean, and frankly, these businesses need that.
LITTLE: Well, the first reason was a real testament to state government and county and city government, is when we went out with the intent language from Congress and said we got $1.2 billion, it can only be used for COVID/corona-caused expenses, can't be used for revenue shortfall. And we didn't have a fraction of that $1.2 billion. And so my advisory committee, my corona financial advisory committee, was looking at SBA grants and some of the other programs and saying that there's some people that really needed the money that didn't get it. Why don't we make some of that available? Idaho was the first state, and I'm proud of the recommendation of what we did. And now several other states are taking our proposal. And it's a pretty simple proposal. It's not complicated. Anybody that has an employee has a... Almost everyone has an account at the state tax commission. The last thing I want to do is put a bigger load on my Department of Labor, because they've already got three programs that have just skyrocketed and taken a big demand. So this is a safety net to make sure that that businesses that didn't qualify for those other programs have even a small lifeline for them to survive until the economy turns around and rebounds.
GAUDETTE: Governor, I want to thank you for taking time out of your incredibly busy schedule to talk to us to answer these questions. It cannot be easy at all, what you are having to move all of us through. So I really do appreciate you taking time today.
LITTLE: Thanks, Gemma.
GAUDETTE: Thank you. You're listening to Idaho Matters.
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