Based on the “tremendous job” Idahoans have done in limiting the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that the state will move to Stage 2 of his four-phase reopening plan this weekend.

That means most businesses can now reopen, as long as they follow safety and sanitation protocols. That includes barbershops and hair salons, restaurant dining rooms and indoor gyms.

“With Stage 2, over 95 percent of Idaho businesses will be able to open their doors, starting as soon as Saturday,” Little said during an hourlong news conference. “Go get your hair cut.”

Idaho had 2,015 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 on April 30, when the state shifted from a statewide stay-at-home order to Stage 1 of the four-phase reopening plan.

As of Thursday evening, the case count had increased to 2,351. While that’s a 17 percent increase in two weeks, the daily trend in case numbers is down. Moreover, the number of emergency room visits by people with COVID-like symptoms has decreased substantially, from more than 80 per day during the initial stages of the pandemic to an average of nine per day so far in May.

“Idaho was one of the last states in the country to have a case of coronavirus, and we’re one of the first states to reopen its economy,” Little said. “We’re doing so responsibly, and with a (phased) plan. The one and only reason we can open is because the people of Idaho have taken personal responsibility to limit their exposure to the virus, to the benefit of themselves, their families and their neighbors.”

Other highlights from Thursday’s news conference include:

More assistance for small businesses — The governor announced a new program to help small businesses by providing them with a 30-day supply of PPE or personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and sanitizer.

“Reopening our economy starts with consumer and employee confidence,” Little said. “It’s been a challenge for small businesses to acquire PPE in quantities appropriate for their size. We don’t want the lack of access to PPE to inhibit small businesses from opening, so this new resource is a bridge that helps them get back to work safely, while the supply chain normalizes.”

Companies can go to supplies.idaho.gov to request their 30-day supply.

This program is in addition to the $300 million in emergency relief payments the state is making available to small businesses. More information on that program can be found at rebound.idaho.gov.

A “good dose of Idaho common sense” — The rebound.idaho.gov website also provides specific protocols for various industries as they begin to reopen.

For example, restaurants are supposed to submit plans to their local health department detailing how they’ll meet safety and sanitation requirements. However, State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn said they can reopen their dining rooms while waiting for health officials review the plans.

Vulnerable individuals are still encouraged to self-isolate and take appropriate steps to protect themselves if they venture out into public. Visits to nursing homes or jails continue to be prohibited, and nonessential travel is discouraged.

Employees who are able to should continue to work from home. Movie theaters and large sporting events are still prohibited, but public or private gatherings of fewer than 10 people are appropriate.

Little noted that “a good dose of Idaho common sense” is helpful when deciding whether a group of 11 people is safe.

“I can’t put every single circumstance on paper,” he said. “Is it 11 (people)? Seven? Sixteen? The question is, what do you do to minimize community spread (of the coronavirus)? Think about that, rather than saying the guidance document has this number in it.”

Bars and out-of-state travel — The governor made two changes to the original reopening plan.

Bars initially weren’t set to reopen until Stage 4, which is scheduled to begin June 13 at the earliest. However, after “close consultation with public health experts,” Little said, that has now been moved to Stage 3.

“They’ll be able to open May 30, two weeks earlier than originally planned, if everything goes well,” he said. “But that can only happen if we continue to meet the benchmarks to slow the spread of the virus.”

Similarly, the governor is easing the requirement that out-of-state travelers self-isolate for 14 days after entering the state.

The restriction remains in effect for people coming from areas with a large number of cases or with community spread of the virus. However, travelers from other areas no longer need to self-isolate.

“This should help Idaho’s tourism industry, while keeping the public safe,” Little said.

Stay vigilant — As he has repeatedly said since announcing Idaho’s reopening plan, the governor urged the public to continue to social distancing and maintain other safe health practices, such as washing their hands and covering their cough.

“We can’t let up,” Little said. “Generally things are better in Idaho than elsewhere, but that’s not a reason to be inattentive to the practices that got us here.”

William L. Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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