Gov. LIttle Stage 4 presser

Gov. Brad Little speaks with members of the media during a press conference at the Idaho State Capitol, Thursday, June 11, 2020. Little announced the state narrowly met criteria to enter the final stage of the Idaho Rebounds plan to safely and responsibly open the economy.

BOISE — For the month of May, Idaho averaged 27 new COVID-19 cases per day, according to the Idaho Health & Welfare tallies posted each day on the state’s coronavirus website. In the first half of June, that’s jumped up to 40 per day.

The Treasure Valley has been among the state’s hot spots for new cases, with by far the most new cases in the past week. Ada and Canyon counties combined have seen 86 new cases in the past week, with new infections concentrated among those age 20-30.

Teton County just realized its first new case in the last six weeks with Eastern Idaho Public Health identifying the West Side Yard in Victor as a point of contact for the positive case. 

Gov. Brad Little and state Health & Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen fielded a series of questions from worried Idahoans about the trend on Tuesday, in the governor’s weekly statewide call-in with the Idaho AARP; Attorney General Lawrence Wasden also joined to warn about coronavirus-related fraud.

“Part of the reason that case count is going up is because we are testing more people,” Little said during the call. “The new numbers here in the Boise Valley … are mainly young people that are showing very little symptoms.”

Jeppesen said the number of COVID-19 tests conducted in Idaho each day has roughly doubled since May, as the case numbers have risen. “That has illustrated that, as we suspected, there’s more people out there with COVID than we thought,” he said, “but we haven’t actually seen that necessarily translate into more utilization of hospitals, which is a good thing.”

“We do know that as we test more, we’re going to find more cases,” Jeppesen said. “We continue to monitor the percent positive. That’s a really good indicator of if we’re seeing an increase in disease in the population, and the percent positive continues to look good. So I expect we’ll continue to see more cases. We’ll need to keep an eye on the percent positive and how that translates into hospital utilization.”

A caller from Boise named Kathy asked Little, “I live here in Boise, and like everyone else, I’m watching daily on how the new cases are going. It alarms me that they’re moving up, and I’m wondering what we can do to get more people wearing masks.”

Little suggested she urge mask use to her friends and the businesses she patronizes.

“The more research there is about it, I think it’s just getting more and more compelling that the masks are a very, very effective way of stopping the spread,” he said.

A caller named Jackie from Boise wondered whether the increase in cases “has to do with the protests that have been going on in our city, or is it just because of new testing?”

Little responded, “The timing could have been, it’s about right, but the big event we had here, most everybody was wearing masks. And the reason it looked like such a big crowd, they sure didn’t have 6 feet of separation, but that crowd was pretty respectful and most of ‘em had masks on. Now, some of the smaller protests have not been quite that compliant with the norms we’d like to see. But we think that there’s a direct relationship (to) that opening of some of the other establishments where there just hasn’t been the distancing that’s necessary.”

After bars were allowed to reopen, Central District Health reported 10 coronavirus cases among a group of individuals who visited a series of packed downtown Boise bars over June 5 and 6.

Jeppesen said, “We certainly are seeing an increase in cases in people age 20-30, particularly here in the Treasure Valley. … That may be related to some of the establishments opening, for sure. And we also are seeing an increase in positive cases just because we’re testing more. There’s cases out there that we just didn’t know about.”

Two callers, Vicki from Eagle and Tina from Meridian, questioned why mask-wearing isn’t mandated, either by stores or by the state.

Stores can require them if they choose, Little and Wasden said.

“They’re private entities and can make that request,” Wasden said.

As far as a state mandate, Little said no state has effectively required that. “I have great confidence in the good judgment of the people of Idaho, but it’s my responsibility … to sell the necessity of it and how it’s part of our ethos in Idaho to protect our neighbor and to protect our family and friends,” he said, “and we want to do it that way. … I’m just going to work really hard to get people to do it, ‘cause it’s the right thing.”

A caller named Jenny told the governor, “I would like to have it clarified that since March 25, Idaho has been functioning under martial law.”

“We’re not under martial law,” Little responded. Wasden added, “And we’ve never been under martial law.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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