County declares emergency; efforts initiated by agencies to limit exposure, spread of virus

Steve Lyon

The confirmation of coronavirus cases in Idaho has ramped up precautions, including cancelling numerous local events, as officials try to slow the spread of the illness and reduce exposure.
 As of Tuesday morning, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare confirmed there were seven cases of  coronavirus in the state. There were no cases reported in Washington County.
 In a Tuesday morning decision, the Weiser School District decided to release early for spring break, opting to send students home on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.
 The district also is extending spring break through March 31. School will resume on Wednesday, April 1.
 School district officials said the changes were taken in the best interest of students, staff and community and as a result of changing conditions. All staff will continue to report to work as scheduled prior to and following spring break.
 School district administrators and trustees are working to come up with a plan to provide educational opportunity and continued food services in the event of a prolonged school closure due to the coronavirus.
 Among the many developments announced on Monday, all high school sports have been suspended by the Idaho State High School Activities Association effective March 17 through at least April 5. That includes all games, practices and meetings.
 All city of Weiser recreation department sports have been cancelled until further notice. The Weiser library will close at the end of business on Friday for an undetermined period. All late fees are waived, according to Mayor Randy Hibberd.
 Washington County commissioners hosted a meeting on Monday that brought together department supervisors, city and county law enforcement, magistrate court judge, fire department, Weiser Ambulance District, the mayors of Weiser, Midvale and Cambridge and others to discuss responses to the coronavirus.
 Prosecuting attorney Delton Walker went through a lengthy agenda of issues and those in attendance heard from various agencies and departments on proactive measures they are taking immediately.
 Walker said it was important to calm fears and protect the citizens of the county in light of the unknown impact of the virus.
 “We don’t know what is going to happen here, but we want to be proactive,” Walker said.
 Magistrate Court Judge David Eames said the Idaho Supreme Court issued orders on Friday in response to the coronavirus emergency that will be in effect from March 16 through April 10.
 The high court’s list of directives follow the declaration of a state of emergency by Idaho Gov. Brad Little.
 Eames said the courts will continue to hear emergency matters, such as child protection hearings, domestic violence hearings and evidentiary hearings in criminal cases, but will continue small claims, eviction, juvenile, probate, guardianship and other cases.
 The court also will continue to hear arraignments for defendants in jail, but attempts will be made to reschedule criminal trials, subject to a defendant’s right to a speedy trial.
 The court will encourage hearings via video conferences and e-filing of documents. Who can attend trials will be limited to attorneys, the parties involved, witnesses and court personnel. The general public will not be allowed to attend trials for now.
 Sheriff Matt Thomas said access to the jail by AA and religious groups will be limited to protect the safety of the inmates. All arrests will be screened in the sallyport for fever and interviewed before they are allowed in the jail.
 “If they are showing signs of being sick, we are not going to let them in the jail,” he said.
 In an effort to reduce exposure to the coronavirus, deputies won’t go out on all medical calls. They will do routine patrolling, but will ask people they come in contact with on calls to come out of their homes so that deputies don’t have to go into residences.
 The Weiser Ambulance District does a lot of transports from Weiser to area hospitals. Ambulance official Corey Patocka said EMTs and paramedics will try to limit exposure to high risk patients.
 He would like to see a dedicated ambulance do the high-risk patient transports and not the 911 ambulance.
 Given the limited staff, the ambulance district cannot afford to have a paramedic get sick and out of work for two weeks. Ambulance personnel also will not bring all of their equipment into homes to reduce exposure, he said.
 Weiser Area Rural Fire District Chief Tim Atwood said the department plans to function as usual and does not expect any significant impacts.
 Washington County commissioners declared an emergency during Monday’s meeting that will allow the county to access additional state resources if needed and also receive some reimbursement for any additional funding that is expended by the county.
 County emergency planning department director Tony Buthman said it would be best if the three cities in the county also approve emergency declaration.
 “It covers us just a little bit more. Just to protect our own interests, now is the best time to get this done,” he said.
 In other coronavirus news, the annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner put on by St. Agnes church was cancelled on Sunday for the first time in decades due to worries about coronovirus and crowds. The dinner is the church’s biggest annual fundraiser and serves 400-500 people.
 Church official said anyone who bought tickets can get a refund at the parish office.
 The Church of the Redeemer in Weiser has suspended all worship services and activities through March 29, or until otherwise notified. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has cancelled services as well.

Signal American

18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
PH: (208) 549-1717
FAX: (208) 549-1718

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