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DMVs see long wait times amid software upgrade

TREASURE VALLEY — Residents of Canyon and Ada counties have been waiting for hours in line at the DMV. That’s not exactly unusual, but the reason it might take a while to get your vehicle registered right now is because of a software update from the Idaho Department of Transportation modernizes its entire system.

Starting in mid-October, ITD rolled out its fourth and largest computer system upgrade yet in attempts to modernize the 40-year-old apparatus. The new system has led to slowed down the process for DMV workers and patrons alike, said Canyon County Assessor Brian Stender.

At the Canyon County DMV, four workers out of the 20-person staff quit because of the stress that the software issue has brought on, Stender said.

It isn’t the first time one of ITD’s computer system modernizations, a process started in 2017, have caused issues in the state’s DMVs. In 2018, there were multiple delays caused by another upgrade rollout, prompting Ada and Canyon County sheriffs to voice frustrations with ITD’s computer system.

Stender said one of the lead workers in Canyon County’s DMV helped nine customers on Friday, and with four of them she had to call ITD to ask for assistance with the software.

ITD is fixing problems as they arise, Stender said, which sometimes makes it difficult because staff may find a workaround one day, but when the problem is fixed they have to figure out how to make it work without the workaround.

“The modernization was necessary, but it was released a little too soon,” Stender said.

In Canyon County, people are waiting up to four hours to get their vehicles registered and their driver’s licenses, while in Ada County what used to take 15 minutes ballooned to an hour and 15 minutes. While wait times are dropping as the system settles into place, the Idaho Press asked people to share their experiences dealing with the overhaul.

Eagle resident Bill Beckes recently went to the Ada County DMV to complete paperwork to register a new vehicle he purchased out of state. It was Oct. 19, a week after the new computer system went online.

“There was a line outside the door of about 25 people. One hour and 55 minutes later I was allowed inside the door where I waited another 30 minutes to complete title paperwork. There was one employee at the door limiting the number of people inside due to COVID restrictions,” Beckes wrote in an email.

After 2.5 hours, Beckes was told a paperwork error would require him to come back another time. When he came back with an appointment on Nov. 6, he was in and out lickety-split.

In Canyon County, Ashley Velasco waited for four hours to get her vehicle registered. She suggests people do their best to take care of their registration online.

“I went to the Canyon County DMV in Caldwell a few weeks ago,” Velasco wrote in an email on Nov. 6. “I got there about 8:45 AM after dropping my kids off at school. The line was already wrapped to the back of the building and into the parking lot. I wanted to go while my kids were in school. I did not have an appointment and it was for vehicle registration. They came out and said the wait time would be about two hours. This was not accurate. It took four hours and I had to have someone get my kids because they only have school three hours.”

The new vehicle registration and titling system has slowed down the process for most Idahoans and is something ITD has been working to ease over the past month, according to ITD public information officer Jillian Garrigues.

“In mid-October ITD implemented the largest phase of the state’s DMV modernization project, moving the vehicle registration and titling system from a 1980s mainframe to an updated computer program. Eight million records were integrated into what’s called a ‘one person, one record’ system. This means each Idahoan will now have one record with both their driver’s license and vehicle registration/title information linked,” Garrigues wrote in an email.

The new system is merging 40 years of data while reconciling errors, discrepancies and duplicated data. This is why the process is taking a longer time than it was before the update. ITD has seen wait times decrease as the system has been online and expects the wait times to continue to drop as county workers become more familiar with the system.

Amazon opens Nampa fulfillment center

NAMPA — Amazon’s first fulfillment center in Idaho is officially open for business.

Amazon and Nampa city officials held a ribbon cutting for the center Monday morning, a day after the facility began operations, said Tim McIntosh, general manager of the new center.

“This is an exciting day for Nampa,” Mayor Debbie Kling said.

Amazon officials celebrated the event with a $15,000 donation to the Idaho Food Bank and $10,000 donation to the Traveling Table, a volunteer-run mobile food pantry that partners with the food bank to distribute food to low-income residents in north Nampa.

The four-floor, roughly 650,000-square-foot Amazon building has been under construction for more than a year. McIntosh estimated the center will create about 2,000 jobs, making it Nampa’s largest single employer. Currently, the building has between 300 and 400 employees, he said. The company in 2018 announced a $15 minimum wage for all U.S. employees.

Amazon, the nation’s second-largest private employer, has faced criticism nationwide over working conditions, including safety concerns during the pandemic as its business has skyrocketed.

McIntosh previously said during a media tour of the center that the top priority for Amazon is to keep its employees safe and follow the health guidelines for COVID-19 prevention, including social distancing and wearing masks.

Everyone, including all employees, must pass screenings that include temperature checks and symptom reviews each time they enter the property, he said. McIntosh said the facility also will install sanitation stations and have employees wear protective gear.

The Nampa center is a robotic fulfillment center, meaning items are stored on top of robots that can transport ordered items for employees to process. Approximately a third of Amazon’s 150 fulfillment centers nationwide are robotic fulfillment centers, McIntosh said.

The center will distribute small and medium-sized items, which Amazon spokeswoman Anne Laughlin said can range from an iPhone case to a small household appliance. The facility will be able to store about 40 million items and process hundreds of thousands of orders a day, McIntosh said.

An Amazon fulfillment center Nampa’s size can process millions of orders every week during the holiday season, McIntosh said. He said he doesn’t think the Nampa center will process that many orders this year, but it could next year.

The center is expected to generate nearly 7,000 vehicle trips per day during the peak holiday season. Several road projects have already been completed to accommodate the additional traffic. This includes new traffic lights bordering the building along East Franklin Road. Amazon agreed to help pay for some of these projects and will complete several others on its own.

Nampa’s public works director for transportation Jeff Barnes previously told the Idaho Press that Amazon is expected to invest about $14.2 million into transportation in Nampa, $5.5 million of which went directly to the city for transportation projects.

The center is expected to generate up to $45 million in property taxes for the city of Nampa over the next 20 years.

Nampa A1 skybox community for 11/10

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U of I receives full animal care accreditation | HEALTH, B2

Utah, seeing similar trends as Idaho, under new emergency order, mask mandate
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Utah’s governor went on statewide TV Sunday night and announced a new emergency order as COVID-19 cases swell in his state, including a statewide mask mandate, a halt to all informal social gatherings and extracurricular school activities, and weekly testing of asymptomatic college students who are on campus.

“We cannot afford to debate this issue any longer,” said GOP Gov. Gary Herbert. “The number of infections in our state is growing at an alarming rate.” Hospitals are at capacity and health care workers are exhausted, he said.

Idaho faces some very similar trends. Gov. Brad Little announced on Oct. 26 that he was moving the state back to a modified Stage 3 of reopening, from the more-permissive Stage 4 that had been in place since June, but stopped short of issuing a statewide mask mandate. He did impose limits on indoor and outdoor gathering sizes and requirements for social distancing “whenever possible.”

Little on Monday morning called on Idahoans to wear masks to protect the state’s at-risk veterans, as a major COVID-19 outbreak in the state Veterans Home in Boise doubled in size to 34 active infections and six deaths.

“Gov. Little believes it is critical that we each choose to wear a mask to protect our neighbors and loved ones, and to keep our economy and schools open,” said his spokeswoman, Marissa Morrison Hyer. But, she said, “Idahoans value local control and the local approach to addressing important issues. Idaho law gives the authority to our mayors, health district boards and counties to set rules for public health. The governor will continue to support those local leaders who make tough decisions to protect our at-risk citizens.”

“Gov. Little continues to have robust discussions with community leaders and the medical community about communicating to Idahoans the effectiveness of wearing masks to stop the spread and win the fight against COVID-19,” she said in an emailed statement.

Idaho, whose population is 1.8 million, has seen more deaths from COVID-19 — 686 — since the coronavirus pandemic began in March than Utah has; Utah’s population is nearly twice as high at 3.2 million. Its death toll as of Sunday was 659.

The last report on current hospitalizations for COVID-19 statewide in Idaho, issued on Nov. 4, was at a record-high 320; Utah on Sunday reported 424 people in the hospital for the novel coronavirus. Idaho Hospital Association President Brian Whitlock said his figures, which track only IHA-member hospitals, showed 343 people hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Saturday.

Both Idaho and its neighbor to the southeast have been reporting fast-rising COVID-19 infections, with Utah’s current seven-day rolling average of new daily cases at a record 2,290; Idaho’s is at a record 1,403.

“We must work together to keep infections low until a vaccine is available,” Herbert told Utahns in his address on Sunday night. “Masks do not negatively affect our economy, and wearing them is the easiest way to slow the spread of the virus. Experts tell us that masks do not cause a shortage of oxygen to your brain or cause disease.”

“Individual freedom is certainly important, and it is our rule of law that protects that freedom,” Herbert said. “Laws are put in place to protect all of us. That’s why we have traffic lights, and speed limits, and seat belts. And that’s why we now have a mask mandate.”

He noted that his order won’t close any businesses, and churches are exempt, though they’re encouraged to follow the masking and social distancing rules. In-person school will continue, with mask requirements in place. High school sports will be allowed to finish the nearly completed season, but all student-athletes will be required to be tested, and no spectators will be allowed.

Businesses or individuals who defy the rules will be fined, the Utah governor announced.

Idaho’s highest single-day count of new cases, including both lab-confirmed and probable cases, came on Saturday at 1,403; that broke the previous record set just a day earlier on Friday of 1,330. Probable cases include those with symptoms plus exposure to a confirmed case, and those who test positive on antigen tests, rather than the more-accurate PCR tests; antigen testing is increasingly being used for rapid testing in Idaho, including in long-term care facilities.

Utah also cited a positivity rate for COVID-19 tests that has soared to more than 20%; Idaho’s most recent published statewide positivity rate, from Oct. 31, was at 14.7% and rising. St. Luke’s health system’s most recent 14-day average positivity rate, as of Sunday, was 19%, the health system reported on its COVID-19 dashboard; Saint Alphonsus was at 19.6%.

“You see the rise in the number of cases, you see the rise in the positivity rate, you see the rise in hospitalizations, you see the ICUs filling up,” Whitlock said Monday, “and you have to ask yourself: How much more can we take without doing something?”

Dr. David Pate, the retired St. Luke’s CEO who, like Whitlock, serves on the governor’s Coronavirus Working Group, said Monday, “We have a house on fire here in Idaho, we do. We’re just a little bit behind Utah, but I fear that we are heading in that very same direction and could be there in a relatively short period of time. I’m very concerned. Our rate of community transmission is quite alarming. Utah’s is higher, but we are certainly in the same ballpark.”

According to the AARP, which has been tracking statewide mask mandates across the country, Utah on Sunday became the 34th state to issue such a mandate. One state, Mississippi, had a statewide mask mandate but lifted it Sept. 30.

Herbert’s executive order, citing research conducted at Brigham Young University, said “masks could be one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools to stop COVID-19 and accelerate the economic recovery.”

In Idaho, approximately half the state population is under locally imposed mask mandates; that includes Ada County and Boise. Ten of Idaho’s 44 counties and 10 cities have issued mask mandates, The Associated Press reports.

Fierce protests, some of them violent, have broken out against local health boards and city councils considering mask mandates. In North Idaho, the Panhandle Health District revoked its countywide mask mandate for Kootenai County on Oct. 22; that then prompted the county’s largest cities, amid continuing protests, to consider their own mandates. Coeur d’Alene enacted one on Oct. 26 as protesters loudly chanted against it; Post Falls got the same reaction as it considered one on Monday. Protests also were expected Monday night in Twin Falls as that city considered a mask requirement.

“I think at some point, we’re going to have to have a serious reckoning here in Idaho,” Pate said. “We are going to have to decide: What do we want to do about public health? Are we going to put our heads in the sand and it’s every man for himself?”

Pate, who is both a physician and an attorney, said, “The real problem here is that for many infectious diseases, if you want to control them, you have to have the cooperation of the populace. And in approaching a public health crisis, the refusal of some to comply can be a threat to the majority.”