UPDATE: The following response was received by Idaho Dispatch from Commissioner and SWDH Board Member Viki Purdy:
Per the board meeting last week, SWDH Board is not limiting businesses in their capacity, is not fining businesses, or punishing businesses for doing business as they see fit. I recognize the flat earth policies oppressing Idahoans in every aspect of their lives from Federal bureaucrats, and the global cabal is, over a year later, doing nothing but destroy the Idaho way of life. It’s past time to open up all of Idaho!
It’s been over a year, children are committing suicide, businesses are closing, and domestic abuse is on the uptick, what if the cure was worse than the disease?
I didn’t run for office to control people or steal their wealth, I ran to empower them!
On February 21st, 2021, Governor Brad Little put Idaho in a “Modified” Stage 3.
Under the Modified Stage 3 protocols, gatherings may occur if the event has less than 50 people. Social distancing and sanitation protocols should be followed according to the “Stay Healthy Guidelines” posted on the “Idaho Rebounds” website.
However, the guidelines for events of 50 people or more are causing confusion among some event planners, city officials, and businesses Idaho Dispatch has spoken to.
Idaho Dispatch encouraged individuals to come forward and speak openly with us about the issue but all of them were hesitant for fear of retribution.
However, there was a common question Idaho Dispatch heard from the concerned individuals: “For events over 50 people, is it a requirement to submit a plan and attestation to the local health district or not, and do we need approval from them?”
The confusion, according to those the Idaho Dispatch spoke with, has to do with what is posted on the “Rebound Idaho” website and what is being posted and said by local health districts.
In particular, the claim is that the Southwest District Health (SWDH) Board’s involvement in events with more than 50 people and what Little’s guidelines show are conflicting.
Idaho Dispatch has made several attempts to reach out to the governor’s office and we have not yet received a response.
So, here is what we found on the “Idaho Rebounds” website regarding gatherings with more than 50 people.
The “Stay Health Guidelines” in Section 1 discusses “Stay Health Recommendations.” The wording here is part of the confusion. Are the “Recommendations” and “Guidelines” requirements or suggestions?
In Section 1-C-ii, the following wording is used (emphasis added is ours),
Gatherings exceeding the size and capacity limitations specified in Section 1(a) may receive an exemption if the organizer submits a plan for the gathering to the local health district having authority where the gathering is to occur and signs an attestation agreeing to comply with the provisions of the plan submitted to the local health district. The submitted plan and any exempted gatherings should adhere to the Physical Distancing and Sanitation Requirements in Section 3;
Part of the confusion is that the “guidelines” here indicate that an event, which is not exempt from the 50-person limitation, “may” receive an exemption “if” they submit a plan to the local health district and they sign an “attestation” agreeing to comply with the plan’s provisions. The individuals Idaho Dispatch spoke with say that phrasing makes it seem as though it is a requirement to submit the plan and attestation to the local health district.
Some additional confusion comes with the “Protocols for Safe Gatherings” which says that people gathering in groups of more than 50 people “should” adhere to physical distancing and sanitation guidelines. No plan is required except for “large venues” in this section leaving some event planners to wonder if they need to submit anything if they aren’t a “large venue.”
In the “large venues” paragraph, the protocols state that the venue “may operate if an attestation is submitted to the local health district” but it makes no mention of an approval being required after the plan is submitted.
The confusion for the individuals we spoke to only got worse they said when they went to the local health district, the SWDH in this case, to find out if they could hold events with more than 50 people.
At the most recent SWDH board meeting, the board stated that a plan could be submitted to the local health district but according to what was said at the board meeting (38:43 mark),
We don’t have to do anything with it, other than file it away.
According to the SWDH’s “Event Plan Review” posted on their website, the district has no authority to approve or deny an event (emphasis added is ours).
While Southwest District Health does not have the authority to approve or endorse an event, we appreciate the opportunity to review event plans and provide consultation and feedback as needed.
However, according to the individuals that Idaho Dispatch spoke with, the following section seems to contradict the previous section stating the district health board has no authority to approve or not approve.
Here is a screenshot of the section in question:
The last portion of this section is where the confusion comes from. The section states that if the plan that is submitted by an individual/business meets the CDC guidelines and the protocols set up by the state, then they will get a letter that serves as their “exemption” for the scheduled event. To the individuals Idaho Dispatch spoke with, they feel it is a requirement.
However, if, as the SWDH board said at their recent meeting that they can just file the plan away, what are individuals supposed to assume about the above letter that may never come?
What happens if the plan does not meet CDC guidelines? SWDH’s website says they do not approve or disapprove plans, so what would the event holder expect at that point going forward?
Idaho Dispatch reached out to the Southwest District Health Board regarding the confusion, and we received a response from Nikole Zogg, the SWDH Director.
Here is Zogg’s response to Idaho Dispatch:
Your email was forwarded onto me this morning by one of SWDH’s Board of Health members. Thank you for reaching out and asking for clarification regarding SWDH’s role in the exemption process for gatherings over 50 as outlined in Governor Little’s Stage 3 Stay Healthy Guidelines. The current guidelines provide the option for event coordinators to submit a plan for review, if they would like to receive an exemption for attendance exceeding 50 people.
Board of Health members do not review the plans submitted. When a plan is received, SWDH staff will review the plan within 3-5 business days and provide feedback and consultation as needed. If community events meet the guidelines and protocol outlined by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Protocols for Safe Events and Gatherings (which utilize the most up-to-date recommendations in order to safely operate amid the COVID-19 pandemic) the event coordinator will receive a letter of review to serve as their exemption for the given event. However, the exemption letter is not required and SWDH does not monitor or enforce adherence to the guidelines. Furthermore, SWDH does not require events to limit capacity but do refer to current guidance outlined in the Stage 3 Stay Healthy Guidelines. The plan and signature page (i.e., attestation) are kept on file for future reference by SWDH staff.
While SWDH does not have the authority to approve or endorse any gathering or event, we appreciate the opportunity to review plans by members of the community who would like an exemption and to provide consultation and feedback.
An example of guidance and information that our staff provides for event inquiries is listed below.
In the response from Zogg, she states that the plan is an “option” and that SWDH does not enforce a limitation on event size. She states that the letter is not required and that SWDH simply refers to the “Stay Healthy Guidelines.”
With the information Idaho Dispatch has received so far, we are not clear on a precise answer for our readers on whether or not the plans are even necessary and whether or not the governor’s office is going to have any kind of enforcement against businesses or events that do not submit a plan at all.
Idaho Dispatch will continue to seek further information from the parties involved in these decisions until a more clear answer can be obtained.
Based on our research, what do you believe is required or suggested from those wishing to seek an exemption to the 50-person limitation on gatherings?
Let us know in the comments below.
Be sure to check out our new “Introduction Video” we released just days ago if you have not seen it already!
Tags: Brad Little, CDC, Covid-19, Events, Nikole Zogg, Southwest District Health