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Forging pathways to a healthier, safer community

After months of planning and revisions, the Emmett City Council has approved a Master Pathways Plan that can serve as a guiding document for future improvements to pedestrian and bicycle traffic in Emmett.

“Like any master plan this is just that – a plan,” Emmett Public Works Director Clint Seamons said. “This is open for changes as needed in the future but it gives us a vision of what we want to accomplish as other projects, including new development, arise and we are able to work cooperatively to bring to fruition.”

For Emmett Mayor Gordon Petrie it is another tool in his overall Healthy Community initiative. “The healthier a community we become the more resilient we are to withstand challenges like the ones individuals face today with the coronavirus. Keep active, eat healthy, choose wisely, reduce obesity and other chronic health conditions and we will all benefit.”

The vision for the master plan initially had to take a brutal assessment of where Emmett is today with its infrastructure. Where and how do we to encourage pedestrian and bicycle traffic in a safe manner that can co-exist with motorized traffic.

One of the initial goals identified was to develop an aesthetically pleasing and safe pathway system that links important community destinations such as parks, schools, and neighborhoods. How to connect Emmett’s Historic District, the Gem Island Sports Complex, the Payette River and other Gem County pathways.

These connections needed to be able to serve both transportation and recreation needs.

Use of this plan as the basis for prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements and expansions is a crucial step. It also can be a tool to help seek funding.

“With this in place we at least have a vision on the table when Development opens conversations with new housing projects, or even just remodels or improvements intended for existing property,” Seamons said.

An ordinance to address pedestrian concerns is nothing new to Emmett. The first sidewalk ordinance was passed in 1893. A lot of changes have taken place since then and the infrastructure has not always kept up with those needs.

For the most part the City has had to rely on property owners to repair existing sidewalks and rely on new developments to construct new ones.

The updated Plan Map will at least identify some of those issues and can make them part of the Building Permit process.

The plan also recognizes a variety of national design standards to at least consider before projects can move forward.

“It’s critical that we gain some consistency from block to block and property to property so that the completed plan will flow – aesthetically as well as functionally,” Seamons said.

Among the major goals identified in the Pathway Plan:

• A continuous connection from Historic Main Street to the Gem Island Sports Complex.

• A connection between the City Park and river via N. Johns Ave.

• A connection between downtown Emmett and the City Cemetery.

• A safe connection of the Payette River pathways on each side of Washington Ave.

While the plan was adopted in October by the Emmett City Council, many of its features have been factors in reconstruction on Washington Avenue this summer by the Idaho Department of Transportation. They also play a role in the work that ITD is helping to fund on S. Johns in 2021.

“Eventually there should be a good pedestrian and bike pathway from downtown via Johns to 12th St. that will help loop all the schools together,” Seamons said. “That includes facilitating better access from the community to the new walk path, Pete’s Path, at Carberry.”

Public safety and pathway preservation are high priorities for the system. That may mean new ordinances adopted in such areas as leashing rules, safety lighting, traffic signs/signal crossings, and ensuring that access points and visual corridors are protected.

“It won’t happen over night,” Seamons said. “But now choices and priorities as funds become available will be clear and transparent for us all.”

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Virus spike pushes Gem County into Red alert
  • 4 min to read

Positive test cases for the novel coronavirus have been escalating across Idaho for the past several weeks, prompting Governor Little to move the entire State back into a modified version of his Stage 2 Rebound Program. Until last week, Gem County had been trailing most counties in its seven-day rolling average of positive tests. Through Wednesday evening, however, 136 were registered in Gem County in the last seven day period – including 110 since Saturday. That is just over 20 percent of the total 668 confirmed or probable cases in the county since March.

In its Wednesday report this week, the Southwest District Health Department (SWDH) has moved Gem County to the Red health alert status - just one week after moving to the Orange health alert status. Gem County had remained the only county in SWDH’s six-county jurisdiction in the yellow health alert category up until last week. Canyon County and Washington County were downgraded to the Red health alert category last week only to be joined by Gem, Owyhee and Payette Counties on Nov. 18. 

In making that move to Orange last week, SWDH cited “an increasing incidence rate and increasing positivity rate. Gem County has a daily incidence rate of 3.63 daily cases per 10,000 people and a test positivity rate of 11.82%. One congregate care facilities in Gem County is facing a sustained COVID-19 outbreak. 64.2% of new cases that were contacted knew where they were exposed to COVID-19, which is trending up and points to community transmission. Additionally, local healthcare providers are concerned with staffing shortages and hospital capacity. One school in Gem County is experiencing a cluster outbreak among students and staff.”

SWDH policy had been not to change a county’s alert level status in consecutive weeks to possibly keep an anomaly or isolated outbreak from skewing the designation. The severity of the surge in new cases, however, prompted the move to Red after only seven days in Orange. 

The surging test numbers has prompted numerous entities to adjust their procedures, while others indicate that their current policies appear to be working with their employees and customer interfaces.

Churches have been making adjustments since the initial state mandates were issued in March. Some have never resumed services since that time. Others have found a variety of ways to continue to meet, either on-line, in person or with a combination of both.

Calvary Christian has continued to alter it’s worship services to meet the needs of its congregation.

“We have three different services so we are able to physical distance as much as possible,” Calvary Christian pastor Michael Hughes said. “We have suspended live services from time to time. Most of our worshippers continue to watch online but we do have a strong desire to have in-person worship.”

Hughes points out that while the weather was warm his congregation was able to use the outdoors and auxiliary space but with the colder weather many have moved back inside. To meet the increased demand for space inside, Calvary has resorted to taking family reservations for services so adequate physical distancing can be maintained.

“We have a strong desire to worship together but just as strong a desire to keep everyone as healthy as possible”, Hughes said.

The affiliated Calvary Christian Academy has moved to entirely on-line learning options at this point due to a cluster of cases within its staff and student body.

Valor Health is probably the most exposed organization in the county. As the primary location for COVID-19 testing in the county, Valor’s experience changes daily and tends to mirror testing trends.

Last week an emergency Incident Command meeting was called at Valor due to staffing concerns over multiple employees testing positive recently. According to data provided the Messenger Index by Valor, as of Friday 19 employees were self-monitoring, and five positive tests were reported during the week.

“Those are certainly major concerns for Valor,” said Brad Turpen, Chief Executive Officer. “We are struggling to get all shifts covered. With the community spread it’s not just about infected or exposed employees but the exposure within their families from outside sources that we have to account for.”

Currently Valor is not opening its Urgent Care facilities on Sundays. That means those patients are being rerouted to the Emergency Room.

“We had 30 patients in ER the first Sunday we closed the Urgent Care facility,” Turpen said. “That’s probably double what ER is staffed to normally handle.”

As hospitals across the state continue to report at or near capacity limits for inpatient care, Valor remains poised to provide some relief with care for non-COVID patients and maybe more.

“We are being told by the St. Al’s and St. Lukes that we need to prepare to handle our own COVID patients here,” Turpen said. “That means taking more of our resources and available space to dedicate to that treatment if needed.”

To date Valor has transferred five COVID patients out of Gem County to the metro hospitals – one of them life flighted.

Turpen says Valor continues to work with the major hospitals in the Treasure Valley to possibly swap non-coronavirus patients from there for COVID-19 infect patients from here as a more efficient arrangement.

The weight put upon the health care system by the coronavirus pandemic is seen in the subtle but significant transfer of resources and curtailment of less serious illness treatment.

“We had to reschedule some primary care patients on Friday because we just didn’t have enough help available,” Turpen said. “Many of our staff have taken on extra hours but we try to limit that as much as possible to keep them healthy. We have accessed some traveling nurses at times to fill the gaps.”

The Gem County Commissioners had a COVID update line item in their agenda Monday morning but requests for input from the Board had not been responded as of Wednesday evening.

The City of Emmett reports that the precautions they have put in place appear to be working as no noticeable spike in employee cases has been reported. The City Council met Tuesday evening for its second meeting of the month – a week early due to Thanksgiving next week and not to address the latest COVID developments in the State.

Emmett Independent School District is closely monitoring its own numbers and patterns of cases. While determined to continue full classroom instruction, school administrators are prepared to alter that course if so directed by the ESD Board of Trustees. Trustees met with Superintendent Craig Woods Monday evening and after lengthy debate determined to continue full class room instruction but will now require masks to be worn in the classroom from Nov. 30 until December 18 if adequate physical distancing can not be maintained.

How fan attendance will be handled at Middleton High School on Saturday for the Emmett – Skyline 4A State Football Championship game has been determined by the IHSAA. Each team in the 4A championship game will be allotted 275 tickets for its fans. Governor Little’s Stage 2 directive indicates no groups of more than ten but outdoor events have received some leeway  to those numbers when physical distance can be maintained.

Little moves Idaho back to Stage 2, mobilizes National Guard to assist

Governor Brad Little signed an executive order Friday afternoon mobilizing the Idaho National Guard to help the pandemic response in new ways, and he signed a new statewide public health order rolling Idaho back into a modified Stage 2 of the Idaho Rebounds plan.

In a release from the Governor’s office Friday afternoon, Little called on Idahoan’s to step up their vigilance in taking preventative actions so that a more stringent order is not required to stem the current surge of coronavirus cases threatening to overwhelm health care resources.

According to the Governor’s office “Healthcare leaders say they are weeks away from having to ration care because too many healthcare workers are out sick with COVID-19. That means they will have to turn people away from emergency departments or they will be unable to provide the best care for patients with COVID-19, heart attacks, strokes, and other health issues.”

“This is the biggest challenge facing healthcare right now – the availability of trained healthy nurses and doctors to care for all patients, not just COVID-19 patients. This impacts all of us, whether we have COVID-19 or not,” Governor Little said.

Executive Order 2020-19 calls 100 troops to provide a host of capabilities where they are needed, potentially including mobile testing support, medical facility decontamination, or COVID-19 screenings, in addition to ongoing planning and logistics support.

Under the new statewide Stage 2 public health order:

  • Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. This does not pertain to religious or political expression. Physical distancing is required for all gatherings.
  • At-risk Idahoans should self-isolate.
  • All Idahoans are encouraged to telework whenever possible and feasible with business operations.
  • Masks continue to be required at long-term care facilities.
  • Bars, nightclubs, and restaurants continue to operate with seating only.

Governor Little said this does not mean Idaho’s economy is on lockdown.

Businesses and churches will remain open under the new statewide public health order. However, all individuals and businesses should continue following recommended protocols to minimize transmission, including wearing masks when around others not in your household. Those protocols are available at Rebound.Idaho.Gov.

Governor Little stressed the importance of our students remaining in their classrooms for in-person instruction as much as possible.

“We put millions of dollars toward the safe operation of schools. Schools are controlled environments and they remain safe places to work and learn, when protocols are followed. School buildings are not the place where virus transmission is occurring,” Governor Little said. “School closures threaten the biggest capacity issue facing our healthcare system – the availability of healthy workers. If a healthy nurse or doctor must stay home to facilitate online learning for their children, then they can’t care for the sick and help get us through this crisis. Our kids need to remain in school for in-person instruction as much as possible.”

Governor Little continued to emphasize the importance of wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Half of Idaho’s population is under a local ordinance requiring masks, but we are seeing non-compliance with those local orders. Or, people are wearing their masks in public but then take them off in social settings where the virus is more likely to spread. Law enforcement can cite individuals for violating local ordinances, but law enforcement cannot be everywhere all the time. That is why I maintain this comes down to personal responsibility. Please, wear a mask whenever you’re around another person who is not in your household so we can protect lives, preserve healthcare access for all of us, and continue our economic rebound,” Governor Little said.