Idaho sheriff asks to 'accelerate reopening' as out-of-state residents make enforcement impossible

"It is more and more apparent that a one size fits all approach to the recovery is not practical nor economically sound"


The Spokesman-Review

KOOTENAI COUNTY, Idaho — Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger has penned a letter to Idaho's governor asking that the reopening of North Idaho's economy be fast-tracked.

Wolfinger wrote that Washington residents are continuing to flock to North Idaho, making an element of the state's current "Stay Healthy" order impossible to enforce.

The letter, which Wolfinger sent to Gov. Brad Little's office on Monday, asked that the state adopt a county-by-county approach to easing out of social distancing measures put in place in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I realize that you are in a very difficult position," Wolfinger wrote to Little. "But as we struggle to recover from the pandemic and return to whatever the new normal may be, it is more and more apparent that a one size fits all approach to the recovery is not practical nor economically sound."

Wolfinger cited North Idaho's 68 cases that were reported across the five Northern counties as of Monday and the lack of confirmed cases in Shoshone, Benewah, and Boundary counties.

"In the five Northern counties, there are only three active cases, currently," the sheriff said Wednesday.

In the letter, Wolfinger argued that North Idaho's case numbers and the "lack of impact" to local hospitals should allow the region's economy to open earlier than other parts of the Gem State.

Under Little's four-phase recovery plan, social distancing guidelines could be lifted statewide by the end of June, provided there are no spikes or upticks in reported coronavirus cases. For now, bars and large event venues are slated to remain closed until stage four of the plan, which is tentatively set to commence on June 13th. Two week intervals separate each stage of the plan.

Wolfinger argued that the remaining stages of the plan could be completed in one-week intervals instead for many counties.

"May I humbly recommend that we look at an accelerated re-opening for specific counties who continue to show no or very little growth in confirmed cases?" the sheriff wrote. "Yes, I realize that we may see a climb in cases, but based on the actual numbers of current confirmed cases and the lack of impact to much of our in-patient health care system I believe that the people of Idaho will react responsibly and appropriately."

Additionally, Wolfinger took issue with a provision of the governor's plan that asks people traveling to Idaho for non-essential services to self-quarantine for two weeks. Wolfinger called the rule "impossible" to enforce given the number of Washington residents who head to North Idaho to recreate.

"On top of that, hundreds of Washington residents have waterfront secondary homes in Northern Idaho, and can ostensibly claim to be quarantining at those locations, with the only time out of the quarantine being for essential services and supplies like groceries," he wrote to the governor.

The sheriff summarized his position by saying that a "one size fits all" policy regarding economic recovery didn't work in Idaho.

"It's one thing to complain, but to give constructive input is something that's valued by an elected official," said Wolfinger. "And I think [the Governor] needs that input."

Wolfinger said that, as of Wednesday afternoon, he was still waiting for a formal response from the governor's office.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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