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July has not been a good month for Idaho on the coronavirus front, with two-thirds of all Idaho’s COVID-19 infections to date reported since July 1, and the month’s tally of deaths now surpassing April’s high, making July the deadliest month for the virus in Idaho, even before it ends. “We’re getting record numbers of cases, we’re getting record numbers of hospitalizations, and now we’re getting record numbers of deaths,” said Dr. David Pate, retired CEO of St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center and a member of Gov. Brad Little’s coronavirus working group. “I hate to tell you, but I don’t think we have hit a peak. I think we’re headed to more problems.” You can read my full story here at (subscription required), or pick up tomorrow's print edition of the Idaho Press.

The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare was reporting 6,117 cases of COVID-19 on June 30, including both confirmed and probable cases. By this past Sunday, that tally had risen to 18,177, and on Monday, it hit 18,694. And the number of deaths on June 30 was at 92; over the weekend, it hit 146, and on Monday, 152.

Dr. Christine Hahn, Idaho state epidemiologist, said, “I think everybody relaxed.” After Idaho’s case numbers fell during the statewide shutdown in the spring, and then businesses began reopening, “A lot of people did less social distancing,” she said, and “stopped worrying so much about being around other people.”

But that’s how the virus spreads — by people being together.

“Keep people apart from each other, it goes down,” Pate said. “Put people back together, it goes up.”

“For the period of time that people took this seriously, we did pretty darn good,” he said. “But then here comes summer. People want to get back with their lives.”

Hahn said the message that didn’t get through strongly enough was that the reopening of businesses needed to be accompanied by preventive measures, including social distancing, good hand hygiene, staying home when sick and wearing masks when out in public.

“If 80% of the population wore masks regularly, we would have a decline in our case numbers,” she said. “We don’t need to shut anything down. We don’t want to shut the businesses down. I hope that I can go into the bookstore, I can go into the grocery store, I can go into the movie theater — if I’m wearing a mask and I’m staying 6 feet apart from non-household contacts.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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