In this Sept. 18, 2020, file photo, Idaho Gov. Brad Little wears a protective mask printed with his state’s flag in Boise, Idaho, before announcing a COVID reopening plan. Earlier this week, Little again urged Idahoans to wear masks, wash hands and practice social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But he has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, instead leaving the decision up to regional health districts.

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On Friday, Eastern Idaho Public Health moved Madison County into the critical risk level in its COVID-19 Regional Response Plan.

“The situation is very serious and we need everyone to do their part,” said EIPH public information officer Mimi Taylor. “Please be a part of the solution.”

Critical risk is the highest level a county can be moved into. EIPH designates a county as high risk when its active case rate reaches 45 per 10,000 for three consecutive days. The county will move to a lower risk level when its active case rate is below that threshold for 14 consecutive days.

“We are at a critical juncture. Our hospitals are being overwhelmed and in a few short weeks, if things don’t change, hospital care could start being rationed for all patients,” Taylor said.

As of Nov. 15, Madison County has 231 active cases. The active case rate is 57.9 per 10,000 and there have been seven COVID-19 deaths in the county.

Friday also saw Gov. Brad Little signing an executive order to mobilize the Idaho National Guard to help with pandemic response as the state moves back into a modified Stage 2 of the Idaho Rebounds plan.

Under this plan, gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited and physical distancing is required for all gatherings. Although this does not pertain to religious or political expression.

At risk Idahoans should self-isolate and all Idahoans are encouraged to telework whenever possible and feasible with business operations.

Masks continue to be required at long-term care facilities and bars, nightclubs and restaurants will continue to operate with seating only.

“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,” Little said in a news release.

Little said the economy is not on lockdown and students should remain in classrooms for in-person instruction as much as possible. There is no statewide mask mandate.

“Half of Idaho’s population is under a local ordinance requiring masks, but we are seeing non-compliance with those local orders,” Little said in the release. “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.”

The Rexburg Police Department and Madison County Sheriff’s Office have both stated they were against citing residents for not physical distancing or wearing masks. Instead, they would focus on an educational approach if residents were not following public health guidelines.

“We will continue with our approach of educating and informing the community. We are not currently citing and arresting people for not wearing masks, not social distancing, or any other violation. If local leaders want to enforce more aggressively, they have the ability to sanction businesses and events without the aid of law enforcement,” the sheriff’s office stated in a Facebook post on Oct. 28.

Rexburg Chief of Police Shane Turman said the department does not want to have to issue citations during the Oct. 7 City Council meeting.

“We’ll do what we need to do because, at the end of the day, it’s all about safety first,” Turman said during the meeting. “Never say never [to issuing citations] but I just think we have to be really careful as we move forward with this.”

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing across the nation, according to John Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking dashboard. On Sunday, 133,045 new U.S. COVID-19 cases were reported, marking the 13th day in a row where more than 100,000 new daily cases were reported in the country.

“To help slow the spread of the virus, we need people to please follow public health guidelines which include staying home when sick, washing hands, maintaining six feet of space between others, wearing a face covering when distancing cannot occur, and avoiding hosting and attending gatherings with people not of the same household,” Taylor said.