TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Idaho is in the midst of stage four of a Rebound plan to reopen the state. While the public may be incredibly excited to start getting back to normal, healthcare workers who have been on the frontlines since the beginning of the pandemic are also cautiously eager for reopening.
Despite their excitement, they face COVID on a day-to-day basis, creating concerns that many people will not follow safety guidelines. They're afraid that people see stage four as the end of the road for COVID-19, and there won't be a need to follow appropriate CDC precautions.
The public health goal for the country and the state once COVID-19 had started was to flatten the curve. The original plan did not focus on completely ridding the disease from the United States since it is a very complicated task that will take some time. Only a handful of countries have managed to almost get rid of COVID completely.
Since people have been stuck at home for an extended period, there is a desire to carry on with daily activities as soon as possible. Some healthcare workers sense people have lost sight of the original goal. They feel that members of the community are strictly focusing on the numbers of each stage. Stage four allows large venues to continue operations, and gatherings can be up to 50 people.
Doctors have taken notice of large numbers of people meeting without proper precautions in place. Fifty people are only allowed to be with each other as long social distancing is in place, and other practices of hygiene are present. Medical personnel wants it known that any amount under 50 people is not the cutoff number for possible exposure.
"Even though we've relaxed restrictions, we are still recommending physical distancing," explains Dr. Joshua Kern, Vice President of Medical Affairs at St. Luke's Magic Valley.
Some areas around the country that are reopening may have to take a step back after a sudden spike in cases. The same scenario could happen to Idaho if people are not cautious and don't follow the guidelines. Since entering stage four, there has already been a slight uptick in the number of cases in the state. People who are joining large crowds, with no face masks, no social distancing can potentially put the state at risk of going back a phase into lock-down.
To try and ensure this doesn't happen, healthcare workers are reinforcing ways of being safe. Despite the stigma that some people may have about face masks, frontline workers are heavily encouraging them.
"There is mounting evidence that the masking really does slow the spread of this thing. The higher percentage of people we get to wear masks, the less likely we will spread the virus," said Dr. Kern.
Masks, social distancing, and basic hygiene have been the central messages throughout the pandemic. As we edge closer to the state's full reopening, experts say it is critical people do their best to follow these guidelines. Dr. Kern also stresses the importance that if someone feels sick, they should remain home. The majority of the outbreaks in this area was in part due to people going to work or events feeling ill, not knowing they had COVID.
There is a feeling among healthcare workers that, despite the pandemic having already been months long, we're only in phase one of the disease. If people fail to follow guidelines and protocols, there is the potential for a second wave. Although we will be better prepared, the full effects are unknown.