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Governor Little announced Friday his plans to roll back the state to a modified Stage Two of the Idaho Rebounds Plan. The reason for rolling back to Stage 2 was due to the spike in cases statewide, an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and the burden being placed on Idaho’s health care system over the last few weeks.

“We’re going back into a modified mode of the original Idaho Rebounds Order,” said Maggie Mann, Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s Executive Director. “COVID-19 continues to be a serious illness. It is critical we take this step back in attempt to limit the spread of the virus.”

Southeast Idaho cases continue to increase. To date, Southeastern Idaho Public Health reports 6,981 cases and 58 deaths in its eight-county region. Five of those deaths have occurred in Franklin County - one of them reported on Nov. 13.

“The volume of new cases is very concerning. The number of cases over the last two weeks has increased significantly from the prior two-week period,” said Mann. On Oct. 13, 91 active cases of CIVID-19 were reported in Franklin County. That has been the highest local count on any one day since the pandemic began. Two weeks ago, on Oct. 31, the count was 69. Numbers got down to 51 on Nov. 4, then jumped to 69 on Nov. 6, before dropping to 42 by Nov. 9. They spiked again on Nov. 13 with 27 new cases. 

“I can’t stress enough the importance of physical distancing, wearing cloth face coverings in public places, staying home if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and washing your hands. Your actions can help to protect you, your family and your community,” said Mann.

Stage Two of the Idaho Rebounds Plan takes effect on Nov. 14, limiting social gatherings both public and private to 10 people including attendance at extracurricular activities such as sporting events. Patrons of bars, night clubs and restaurants must remain seated. All long-term care facilities must require that masks be worn on their premises. However, businesses and worship services remain open. 

At Preston High School, a waiver allowing for 300 people to attend sports and 150 to the school's musical, "Anastasia," were received last week. That waiver will remain in effect until Nov. 22. 

"In the meantime, we will continue to investigate any avenue we can to provide safe, healthy ways for spectators to participate in the extra-curricular activities at the school," said Preston School District Superintendent Marc Gee. 

"While we work on ways to provide spectators with opportunities to participate, we would ask that all those who attend events between now and Nov. 22, wholly observe the requirements we have put in place. It will be a much stronger argument if it is clear that those attending events are doing their best to meet the safety guidelines we have put in place," he said.

The rollback to Stage 2 makes no change to day-to-day operations in the West Side School District, said Superintendent Spencer Barzee.

"Unfortunately, our efforts to date have not slowed the spread. It’s up to all of us, and the choices we make every day, to help slow the spread of COVID-19," said Mann. “It's more important than ever for the people of southeastern Idaho to choose to adopt these precautions – if not for their own sake, then for the vulnerable, like the elderly and those with underlying conditions.”

COVID-19 is not the only illness causing problem is Franklin County. Fifty percent of the COVID-19 tests being administered locally are false, with an average of 18 percent positivity over the last month. Strains of the flu and cold are also making people sick. The county's goal is to have just five percent of the tests for COVID-19 be positive.

The rise in cases has caused a lot of overtime and stress on local health care workers, said Darin Dransfield, CEO of Franklin County Medical Center in a report to the Preston City Council on Nov. 9.

"COVID-19 fatigue is a real thing in our hospital. We are asking practitioners and other staff to work sometimes two jobs," he said. We are working with state resources and other entities to keep employees safe and patients safe. This week (Nov. 2-6), we tested 472 people of which 45 people tested positive, he said.

Dransfield said the hospital is well equipped to handle any testing cases, and have four options: all considered moderate to very reliable in regards to results.

But he is concerned about the hospital's capacity to treat seriously ill and contagious patients as there are only four beds that are stale off from the rest of the building: three for patients and one for staff treating them. "Because of the HVAC system our current capacity for COVID-19 patients is three. We can not exceed that without jeopardizing the health of the providers," he said. Over the last five weeks, 25 staff members have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, he told city officials.

So in regards to the pandemic, FCMC is currently at capacity with three patients. Emergency and elective surgeries and treatments are still being conducted in the hospital's other rooms.

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