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Staff at Saint Alphonsus Meridian Health Plaza collect patient information and conduct health screening before administering tests for COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases on Wednesday, July 8, 2020 in Meridian.

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BOISE — Gov. Brad Little announced today that Idaho will move back to Stage 3 of its reopening, after remaining in Stage 4 since June, due to coronavirus spread and “alarming” capacity questions at Idaho hospitals. The governor stopped short of issuing a statewide mask mandate, though health officials in several parts of the state have been pleading for one.

“Hospitals throughout the state are quickly filling up or are already full with COVID-19 patients and other patients, and way too many health care workers are out sick with COVID-19,” Little said.

The governor issued a new Stage 3 public health order, which limits indoor gatherings to 50 people or less; limits outdoor gatherings to 25% of capacity; requires physical distancing at gatherings of all types; requires masks on the premises of long-term care facilities; encourages employers to protect at-risk employees by offering telework or other accommodations; and allows bars and restaurants to operate only for seated customers at tables.

Little declared that Idaho’s economy “remains open.”

Though the state has been in Stage 4 of reopening since June 13 – allowing virtually all businesses to reopen, as long as precautions are followed – Ada County was moved back into Stage 3 on June 23 by the local health district, due to community spread of the COVID-19 virus.

On Monday, Idaho reported 59,344 cases of COVID-19, with Ada, Canyon and Kootenai, Bonneville and Twin Falls Counties adding more than 2,000 cases combined from Oct. 18 to Oct. 24. Idaho is averaging 46 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 statewide as Oct. 24, a stark rise from Oct. 18, when the statewide rate was 37 per 100,000.

About a dozen protesters who refused to wear masks were in the hallway outside the Lincoln Auditorium as the governor announced the move; a line of Idaho State Police troopers prevented any of them from entering the auditorium. The governor’s press conference was open only to credentialed members of the news media and masks were required.