BLACKFOOT — It didn’t take long for local entities to start feeling the impact of Gov. Brad Little’s 21-day stay-at-home order issued Wednesday afternoon, working to answer questions and concerns from local residents as the state deals with the coronavirus pandemic.
Sheriff Craig Rowland issued a statement shortly after the announcement from the governor after law enforcement was swamped with calls.
“The Bingham County Sheriff’s Office is starting to get many phone calls into the dispatch center about Gov. Little’s order to stay at home,” Rowland said. “The order from the Governor states that the stay-home order requires citizens to self-isolate at home if you can, not just if you are sick. If you are high-risk, avoid leaving home. People can leave home to obtain or provide essential services as defined in the order. Grocery stores, medical facilities, and other essential businesses will remain open as will drive through restaurants and curb side pickup at the restaurants.
“Non-essential businesses and services will close their physical locations. This includes bars, nightclubs, gyms, recreational facilities, entertainment venues, convention centers, hair and nail salons, and others not included in the ‘essential’ category as defined in the order.
“This order does not close the roads and we at the Sheriff’s Office are all still working to assist anyone with their needs. Please do not call 911 to ask if you can drive somewhere or ask about the order. Please call the non-emergency line at 208-785-1234 or 208-785-4440.
“I will post more when I have more information.”
The governor’s order was also a major topic of conversation during a special meeting of the Blackfoot City Council late Wednesday afternoon. So far, officials say, they are patterning their response after an order by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to self-isolate in Blaine County, perhaps the county hit the hardest by the pandemic in the state.
The council voted to extend a declaration of local disaster emergency that was signed March 19, which opened the door to enabling small businesses to obtain federal and state aid.
The council also discussed city utility billing relief, but after looking at potential logistical problems in handling requests that proposal died for a lack of a motion, deciding instead to give a two-month leeway before shutting off services and encouraging residents needing help with utility payments to look toward assistance through the Southeastern Idaho Community Action Agency with Idaho Careline 2-1-1.
Council members agreed to revisit the city offering relief on utility billing only as a last resort.
“I don’t know what the situation is out there in the community at this point, but I’ve talked to businesses in town and we’ve seen a significant decrease in business, we’re seeing a sharp drop in restaurants with people being furloughed and people are wondering about how to pay bills,” said Mayor Marc Carroll.
The city was looking at providing utility billing relief only on residential accounts, not on commercial accounts, forgiving all water charges for one month with the reasons having to link back to the effects of COVID-19. Proving that the numbers of residents were needing help because of COVID-19 was a concern.
Carroll said the proposal would cover 22-25 percent of residential users, but with the governor’s order it would possibly turn out to be too big for the city to deal with.
“This would be a logistical nightmare,” said council member Jan Simpson.
The meeting was opened up to discussion of the governor’s proclamation. Carroll said the city would be providing “very skeleton” coverage at city hall during the 21 days of the order with one to two people in the office to help cover essential services.
The city library will not be accepting books in the book drop, which has been wrapped shut with a sign saying no fines will be assessed for overdue books, asking patrons to keep items until the library is open again.
Playground equipment at city parks is being sanitized but will still be wrapped with ribbon tape, encouraging that the equipment not be used.
For now, city officials said, they will be following the same order given to Blaine County unless the state gives different orders, which includes self-isolating at places of residence only to leave to provide or receive certain essential services or engaging in certain essential activities and work for essential business and government services; exempting individuals experiencing homelessness from the self-isolation order but urging them to find shelter and government agencies to provide it; directing all businesses and governmental agencies to cease non-essential operations at physical locations; prohibiting all non-essential gatherings of any number of individuals; and cessation of all non-essential travel.
Violation of or failure to comply with the order could result in misdemeanor charges, said city attorney Garrett Sandow.
The definitions of “essential” are somewhat broad. For instance, the Blaine County order says individuals may leave their residence to provide any services or perform any work necessary to the operations and maintenance of “essential infrastructure, including but not limited to public works construction, commercial construction, construction of housing, airport operations, water, sewer, gas, electrical, roads and highways, public transportation, solid waste collection and removal, but all services must be carried out with social distancing requirements.
Under the Blaine County order, “essential businesses” means healthcare operations and essential infrastructure; grocery stores and convenience stores; food cultivation including farming, livestock, and fishing; businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services and other necessities for economically disadvantaged or needy individuals; newspapers, television, radio, and other media services; gas stations and auto supply, repair, and related facilities; banks and financial institutions; hardware stores; plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and landscapers; businesses providing mailing and shipping services; educational institutions for providing distance learning provided that social distancing is maintained; laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers; restaurants and other facilities preparing and serving food but only for delivery or carry-out; businesses supplying products needed for people to work from home; businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods, or services directly to residences.