Idaho Board of Education orders schools closed statewide

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho State Board of Education has ordered schools statewide to close until at least April 20 in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The directive was announced Monday evening, just a short time after Idaho Gov. Brad Little said during a press conference that he was not yet ready to make statewide or even additional local closure orders in response to the growing number of Idaho residents confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Until Monday evening, Idaho was one of just a few states still leaving the decision of school closures up to local officials. In the closure order, the Idaho State Board of Education said the April 20 date could be pushed further out, and said public schools could continue to provide meals and daycare services in the meantime. Districts will also work on developing plans for online learning.

The governor has so far declined to issue any statewide closures, instead taking other steps including extending state tax deadlines, recommending that people practice social distancing and stay home if they are sick, elderly or otherwise infirm, and tweaking licensing requirements to make it easier for retired nurses and other health care providers to help if the state’s medical system gets overwhelmed.

“Idaho is an expansive, geographically diverse state,” Little said Monday afternoon, repeating what has become a common refrain during his coronavirus-related announcements, “and science and common sense tell us that planning and responsive efforts in one part of the state may not be the best approach in another part of the state.”

Also Monday Boise Mayor Lauren McLean enacted a social distancing order, requiring Boise businesses and venues to keep groups of people to fewer than 10 at least 6 feet away from each other and follow stringent cleaning practices.

Grocery stores, medical facilities, government agencies and sites providing social services are exempt, the mayor said, and businesses are still allowed to offer carry-out, drive-through and delivery services. The order lasts for 30 days.

“These actions are painful but necessary,” McLean wrote in her statement announcing the order. “I'm asking the community to come together and make these needed changes in response to this crisis we face.”

With more than five dozen confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Idaho Monday, agencies, businesses and schools statewide continued to work to slow the spread of the illness.

Little said he was working to lighten some regulatory requirements on health care providers so retired nurses, physicians' assistants and others can provide medical care if the state's health care system begins to get overwhelmed. Little also postponed Idaho's tax filing deadline by 60 days to June 15, along with deadlines for applying for property tax relief.

The governor said he's not currently considering any shelter-in-place or social distancing orders for the state, instead just urging elderly, medically frail and chronically ill residents and their caregivers to stay home to reduce the chance of becoming infected.

He also acknowledged that the state's limited testing supplies raises concerns that officials may be underestimating the danger posed by the coronavirus.

Some of Idaho's drive-through testing clinics have indicated that they're turning nine out of 10 test-seekers away because they don't meet the criteria for receiving tests.

“But that doesn't mean they should get tested,” said Dr. Christine Hahn, the state epidemiologist, noting that some people asking for COVID-19 tests don't have any symptoms and simply want it for peace of mind.

Boise State University urged students to move away from dormitory-style housing if they can, and like the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and other higher education institutions across Idaho, has moved all classes online.

Central District Health, which serves the Boise region, on Sunday asked any Ada County residents who have recently traveled to Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey or surrounding areas to shelter in place for two weeks, and health officials in eastern Idaho asked residents who traveled to the same area to call for further instructions. The towns are all in Blaine County, which has at least confirmed 35 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The entire county was placed under a shelter-in-place order by Idaho Gov. Brad Little last week.

Fourteen of those Blaine County cases were in health care workers, including two emergency room doctors at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, the Idaho Mountain Express reported. St. Luke's public relations manager Joy Prudek said staffers and health care providers from other facilities within the St. Luke's Regional Health System have been sent to the local medical center to help out.

The State Board of Pharmacy, meanwhile, last week enacted a temporary rule limiting the situations in which pharmacists can dispense new prescriptions for chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. The anti-malarial drugs are often prescribed for some serious autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but both medications have been the subject of limited scientific studies to see if they can aid in the treatment of COVID-19. That's caused a run on the medications, complicated access for people who need them for their chronic illnesses. Idaho's temporary rules include a requirement that people with new prescriptions for the drugs have a diagnosis that supports the need for the medication.

There are at least 65 people confirmed to have COVID-19 statewide, according to counts from Idaho's public health districts.


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