Saturday, September 19, 2020
Governor Orders Blaine County Residents to Shelter in Place as Coronavirus Spreads
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St. Luke's Wood River set up a coronavirus testing drive-thru on Wednesday. But it's only for those with symptoms.
   
Friday, March 20, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Blaine County, if you haven’t gotten serious about the coronavirus, it’s time.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is ordering Blaine County's 22,000 residents to shelter in place following the announcement of 12 new cases of novel coronavirus.

Health officials announced that 12 new cases coronavirus had been confirmed in the county Thursday evening, adding to five that had earlier been identified. Two are reported to be health care workers.

In addition, the county has community spread, meaning investigators have not been able to determine where a man in his 40s contracted it. He neither traveled out of state to a place with known coronavirus nor did he come in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with it.

The fact that they don’t know how or where he became infected means the virus is now circulating in the community. And public officials expect many more cases in the community as multiple people contract the virus from unspecified members of the community without knowing where they got it.

Not every state has community spread yet.

 “It no longer matters where it started. This virus is now in our community,” said Logan Hudson, public health division administrator for South Central Public Health District. “It is important that we take precautions to slow the spread and protect the most vulnerable among us.”

Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday night that he was asking Blaine County to shelter in place. The mandatory order, issued by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, means stay in home except to go out and get essential services or to go to work to provide essential business and government services.

People should return home promptly when they are done. People will be allowed to recreate outside provided they maintain a distance of six feet between themselves and others who are not in their immediate family.

Essential businesses like doctor’s offices, supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies, hardware stores, banks, laundromats and child care facilities not already closed by the coronavirus will remain open. Construction activities will be permitted, as will deliveries by UPS, FedEx and the Post Office. Travel in and out of the valley will remain open.

Gatherings of individuals outside the home are prohibited.

The order came at the end of a day in which Boise Mayor Lauren McLean called for the shutdown of indoor dining in bars and restaurants in Boise beginning Friday. The University of Idaho cancelled its spring 2020 commencement and announced university classes would be delivered online for the remainder of the semester.

Locally, Hotel Ketchum and the Tamarack lodge announced they were closing immediately and would not take reservations prior to June 3. Sun Valley Lodge remains open but the Inn has closed and the Village Station is offering only curbside delivery and takeout.

The Limelight hotel will close starting Saturday, March 21.

It was only Saturday—less than a week ago—that Idaho confirmed its first case of coronavirus. Now it has 23 with Northern Idaho reporting its first case in Kootenai County.

The new cases in Blaine County include six males—one in his 30s, four in their 40s and one in his 50s. The other six are female—one under 20, two in their 30s, two in their 50s and one in her 70s.

One individual does not live in Idaho. That person relocated to their home state, reducing the number of Blaine County cases to 16 since that individual’s home state is taking over the investigation.

An epidemiology team has been working to identify any people who have had close contact with any of the confirmed cases in Blaine County. It is monitoring those people for symptoms.

Despite community spread, people don’t necessarily need to fear a bogeyman around every corner, said Brianna Bodily, public information officer for South Central Public Health District.

But it’s prudent to act as if everyone you meet could have the disease, even if they display no symptoms, said a St. Luke’s nurse Thursday afternoon.

The fact that there’s community spread indicates that some people with cold-like or flu-like symptoms are not isolating themselves, said Bodily.

 “The reason it’s a concern is because it’s more difficult for us to find close contacts who may have been exposed if we can find the initial transmission point,” she added.

Community spread is definitely a reason to exercise all the precautions that health officials have been issuing for several weeks, Bodily said.

“There is not a reason to be afraid at this point, but there is reason to take precautions. There are people in our community who are extra vulnerable to this virus—perhaps, because they’re immuno-compromised or perhaps because they’re dealing with something else and it’s decreased the ability for their immune system to fight off this virus,” she said.

“The rest of us should be more concerned on their behalf. By concerned, I mean we should be taking action to help prevent the spread of this disease. We don’t have to be afraid of this disease. We just need to work together to stop it.”

People should stay home immediately as soon as they start showing symptoms. And all others should stay home as much as possible, said Hudson. Prior to Little’s order Hudson offered these other guidelines:

  • Work or engage in schooling from home whenever possible.
  • Avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.
  • Avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants where social distancing is not achievable. Instead use drive-thru, pickup or delivery options.
  • Avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips and social visits.
  • Do not visit nursing homes or retirement centers unless to provide critical assistance.
  • Maintain a safe distance of at least six feet from one another and wash their hands, repeatedly.
  • Those who feel the sniffles, cough or fever coming on should self-quarantine and stay in a room separate from the rest of the family to avoid further spread.

St. Luke’s Wood River opened a drive-through testing station outside the physician’s office annex on Wednesday to keep patients with respiratory infections separated from other hospital patients.

Those receiving testing must have symptoms. That includes a fever above 100.4, cough and shortness of breath. Those seeking a test will also asked whether they’ve been to an area with a lot of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus.

Generally speaking, exposure means being within six feat of a contagious person for at least several minutes.

Those with mild symptoms who aren’t high risk can avoid testing and should self-isolate at home immediately. Symptoms usually appear four to six days after exposure but may take up to 12 days.

On Thursday a number of seniors took advantage of Albertson’s decision to let seniors shop between 7 and 9 a.m. without potential exposure to young people who may appear asymptomatic. Store clerks said the store had been disinfected overnight. And members of the Hailey Police Department were on hand to assist with the groceries.

The practice will be repeated on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a representative for the grocery chain said.

In the Treasure Valley Boise Anesthesia Physician Associates laid off 53 nurse anesthetists as patients cancelled non-urgent surgeries. Saint Alphonsus Health System postponed all elective and non-emergency surgeries and invasive procedures until June 1.

“If you have an elective surgery coming up, you might want to consider postponing it right now—it’s the right thing to do,” said one Boise nurse.

St. Luke’s Wood River did not respond to a question posed Thursday morning asking whether the local hospital was canceling elective surgeries.

But the hospital did issue a statement from Dr. Deb Robertson, medical director of St. Luke’s Wood River’s Emergency Department, who said the staff is taking appropriate precautions, putting multiple layers of safety procedures in place to ensure they can reduce the risk of viral spread.

The statement said it would be no surprise, as time goes on, if some of first responders and caregivers contract the virus.

“But as we have always done, we will respect the privacy of our friends, neighbors and colleagues, some of whom are beginning to grapple with this challenging condition,” said Robertson. “Also, as we have always done, we will get through this together.”

Workers who are concerned about catching the virus should work out details with their employer to stay home, said Bodily. And everyone should make sure that anyone coming to the door is healthy.

“Everybody on the public health side is doing their absolute best to put a stop to this, but this kind of virus really requires a community effort,” she said. “And everybody has to be on board. There are people who aren’t taking this serious and this virus deserves respect.”

Questions?

Call South Central Public Health District at 208-737-1138. Call 208-737-5965 for a Spanish translation. The hotlines are running from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.

 

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