- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2020

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho will remain under restrictions in the fourth and final stage of reopening the economy during the coronavirus pandemic for at least another two weeks, Gov. Brad Little said Friday.

The Republican governor said intensive care unit hospitalizations of those infected remain too high, though many other metrics, such as a decline in the infection positivity rate among those tested, are improving.

Most Idaho businesses, except for large venues, are allowed to open in stage 4.

Little made it a business-themed news conference and touted a wide range of economic indicators, including the current unemployment rate dropping to 4.2%. It reached nearly 12% during spring when the virus entered Idaho and businesses started shutting down.

Little also listed off actions he’s taken, such as cutting regulations and strategically using Idaho’s $1.25 billion share of the $2.2 trillion in federal coronavirus rescue money to help businesses.

But he attributed most of the good economic numbers to Idaho residents for taking precautions to avoid spreading the virus, which he said also allows most schools to hold in-person instruction.

“People are making sacrifices,” Little said. “Whether they’re wearing face coverings, whatever they’re doing, they need to know that part of the return on that is what’s going on with the economic prosperity in Idaho, and we wanted to highlight that.”

But virus infections have continued. John Hopkins University reports that through Wednesday, there were more than 36,000 virus infections and 434 deaths in the state.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Little issued a stay-at-home order in late March that ended April 30. The state then successfully advanced at two-week intervals through the first three of Little’s four-stage reopening plan. But the state remains stalled in stage 4 that was initially set to expire on June 27. It allows nearly all businesses to open as well as gatherings of more than 50 people as long as precautions are taken.

Little, who wears a face-covering in public and recommends others do so as well, hasn’t imposed a statewide mask mandate, leaving it up to local communities.

Seven of Idaho’s 44 counties, along with nine cities, have mask requirements, according to the Idaho Office of Emergency Management.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some - especially older adults and people with existing health problems - it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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