The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has created unprecedented disruptions to the economy. Each week in March and April brought news and developments that were historic and overshadowed the previous week’s developments. It has been impossible to keep up with the magnitude and volume of the economic impact affecting Idaho and its regions.
To document this event in Idaho, and the changes our state is experiencing from week to week, the Idaho Department of Labor is providing a weekly update. Pertinent events and data as it becomes available will be provided for each region in Idaho, the state as a whole and the context of the national economy.
Statewide COVID-19-related updates
- As of April 30, Idaho’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 had increased to 2,015, an 11.8 percent increase over the prior week.
- Initial unemployment claims remained elevated in the week ending April 25, with 8,827 claims filed. This marks a 32 percent decline from the previous week. During the six weeks of the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, a total of 117,811 claims have been filed – double the number filed during all of 2019.
- Gov. Brad Little’s Rebound Plan entered Stage One as of May 1. About 90 percent of businesses are now able to open. Information on the plan is accessible at https://rebound.idaho.gov/.
Idaho Department of Labor
Regional COVID-19-related updates
No current report available.
North Central Idaho
- COVID-19 continues to cause job losses in the region. In the week ending April 25, north central Idaho workers filed 266 unemployment insurance claims. That was the lowest amount in five weeks, but nearly three times higher than the week of March 14, the week before the coronavirus swamped the region’s economy. In the six weeks from March 15 through April 25, north central Idaho workers filed 3,445 initial claims. That’s nearly as many as the 3,666 initial claims filed in all of 2019. About 6.7 percent of the region’s residents who were employed before the crisis filed initial claims in that six-week period.
- Lewis and Clearwater counties have been hardest hit by the crisis, using the criteria of percentage of previously employed residents who have filed claims, as the table below shows. Those two and Idaho County saw more initial claims filed in just six weeks than in all of 2019.
- To assist businesses struggling in the harsh environment caused by COVID-19, the Port of Lewiston plans to allow its tenants to defer up to 35 percent of their lease payments in May, June and July without interest or late fees. Whatever amount a tenant defers, it would have to be paid within 10 months starting in August. The port serves as landlord to 28 businesses at its incubator and business parks. Source: Lewiston Tribune
- The steep decline in passengers caused by the coronavirus has forced carriers to reduce service to the region’s airports. In early April, Sky West dropped two of its three daily round trips between Lewiston and Salt Lake City. As of May 1, it will provide service only five days a week. At the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport, Horizon Air is making a single round trip each day between Pullman and Seattle. On May 3, that flight will begin stopping in Walla Walla on its way to Pullman. Before the coronavirus, Horizon Air made as many as five round trips a day. Source: Lewiston Tribune; Moscow-Pullman Daily News
- The University of Idaho’s biological sciences department will use a $100,000 National Science Foundation grant to look for a drug that blocks viruses from attacking human cells. The drug ideally would prevent the “spikes” on the coronavirus from docking with and thereby infecting a healthy cell. That would be a more effective strategy in the long run than antiviral drugs, because viruses can evolve rapidly making drugs ineffective, according to the department scientists. Source: Idaho Education News
- Another research team at the University of Idaho, composed of engineers, recently developed a way to use ultraviolet light to kill or inactivate viruses, which health care providers can use to sterilize and reuse protective equipment including face masks. The project started when an emergency room doctor at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston contacted the College of Engineering for help designing and building a UVC sterilization cabinet. A team of electrical, mechanical and biological engineers quickly formed to tackle the problem and rapidly built the large unit requested by St. Joseph. Then, the team put together an open source document with a plan any medical facility can use to build its own. Source: Lewiston Tribune
- Hospitals, especially rural critical access hospitals, are struggling as their costs have risen and revenues have plummeted. They spent money to ensure they have personal protective equipment and other medical supplies on hand in case of a significant COVID-19 outbreak in their communities. At the same time, their most profitable operations — elective surgeries and many outpatient services — were shut down. That in turn led to a decrease in imaging and therapy services. With people afraid to potentially expose themselves to patients with coronavirus, fewer patients are arriving at emergency rooms. In addition, the dramatic decrease in traffic and the closures of many workplaces has reduced the number of accidents. The Idaho Hospital Association estimates that emergency departments in Idaho have seen an average of 40 to 50 percent decrease in patients. At Syringa Hospital in Grangeville, emergency room visits fell 60 percent. Syringa furloughed 10 of its 70 employees for 30 days ending in mid-May. All of its administrators and most of its doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants took voluntary pay cuts up to 10 percent. After implementing new safety measures, the hospital resumed routine care at the end of April. The coronavirus-caused financial crunch forced Gritman Medical Center, the Moscow hospital that employs 566, to lay off an unspecified number of employees in late April. In addition, executives and many physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and physician assistants accepted salary reductions. As of May 1, Gritman and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston resumed elective surgeries and some outpatient services. The CARES Act provides federal dollars to keep hospitals functioning. For most hospitals, the amount they receive is about two weeks of revenue. Sources: Lewiston Tribune, Post Register, Spokesman Review.
Kathryn.Tacke@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 799-5000 ext. 3984
- Initial claims for the week ending April 25 decreased 35 percent in southwestern Idaho, the fourth straight weekly decrease. The number of initial claims in the region has accounted for 20 percent of all initial claims during the latest week and 26 percent of all initial claims filed since March 21.
- The number of females filing in the region accounted for 48 percent of the total, slightly below the 54 percent statewide. This is the first week that the number of males filing has exceeded the number of females. The region has always experienced a slightly lower rate than the state. The percent of females filing initial claims was the highest at 58 percent for the week ending March 21.
- Nearly 46 percent of the persons filing in the region are under 34 years of age. This is slightly lower than last week. The age group 25 to 34 continues to be the largest since the COVID-19 crisis had an impact on Idaho’s labor force.
- Accommodation and food service and health care and social assistance continue to be the two industries in the region with the most claims. The two occupations with the highest number of initial claims are office and administrative support and the food preparation and serving-related occupations, accounting for slightly less than 30 percent of the claims.
- The Parma Motor-Vu opened last weekend. Drive-in theaters are allowed to operate as long as social distancing requirements are followed at all times. Participants should avoid leaving the vehicle, vehicle occupants should be limited to household members and common facilities such as concessions and restrooms should be avoided. Source: Idaho Statesman
- West Valley Medical Center and St. Luke’s are participating in a national study to determine if plasma from recovered COVID-10 patients may benefit those hospitalized with severe cases of the virus. Eligible volunteers are encouraged to donate plasma. Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center administered the convalescent plasma therapy test to a patient recently. Source: KIVI & Idaho Press
- ACT, Access to COVID Testing, is another collaborative effort in the private sector to test for COVID-19. The test is done through a blood draw to test for antibodies that have developed against COVID-19, rather than nasal swab that is more widely used for diagnosing the disease. Appointments can be made online. The tests have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for data collection purposes thus far. They won’t help a person know if they need to go to the hospital, but will help residents know if they’ve been exposed to the virus or if they’re an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. The test are 96 percent accurate. Source: Idaho Press
- The City of Boise’s Arts & History department, Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts and Treefort Music Festival have teamed up to help support artists in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The concept will help put together works for a permanent archive. It will be a collection of individual works that explore, document and/or reflect on personal experiences during the pandemic and the impact on the community. Source: BoiseDev
- The Idaho Shakespeare Festival organizers have canceled the first two productions of its season — Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and the Fats Waller musical “Ain’t Misbehavin.” The earliest possible opening date of the amphitheater to open will be June 13-26. Source: Idaho Statesman
- HCA Healthcare Inc., the parent company of West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell, reported first-quarter net earnings were down 44 percent. The company operates 185 hospitals and 119 freestanding ambulatory care facilities in 20 states. The hospital chain will suspend all stock buy-backs, canceled its first quarter dividend, canceled some planned capital projects and requested accelerated Medicare payments as provided by the CARES Act. It has also arranged for a $2 billion “364-day term loan facility” to improve its liquidity. Source: Idaho Business Review
- Boise State University will eliminate annual contracts for staff members. This is a move that could allow the university to cut positions and lay off employees during a lengthy economic downturn. Professional staff will be required to sign appointment letters with no set ending data, an at-will employment relationship. The move covers only professional salaried staff. It does not affect faculty or hourly, classified staff. Boise State has incurred nearly $10 million in losses between refunding student fees and canceling spring and summer campus events. A canceled or shortened college football season could cost the university tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue. Earlier Boise State announced furloughs for employees making more than $40,000 a year, which included university staff and faculty members on 12-month contracts. Source: Idaho Education News
Janell.Hyer@labor.idaho.gov, senior economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 332-3570 ext. 2330
South Central Idaho
- Ballet Sun Valley has pushed back its festival from mid-July to the latter part of August. Pacific Northwest Ballet of Seattle accommodated the schedule change for its 25 dancers to perform at the open air Sun Valley Pavilion. Source: Idaho Mountain Express
- Sun Valley Museum of the Arts and Comedy of Fools have taken to social media with podcasts and museum tours designed to whet the appetite for the arts. There are also regularly uploaded doodles to try at home, music videos specially recorded of past visiting musicians and content that is much newer as well as “throwbacks.” Company of Fools in Hailey is releasing its Foolish Voices podcast, with guests contributing from different states and several episodes scheduled weekly. It is also digitally providing its educational outreach program to elementary school-age students. Source: Idaho Mountain Express
- Ketchum and Bellevue are sites for the first rapid antibody test for COVID-19, based on a finger prick with results returned in less than five minutes. The testing has evolved from a partnership between health care professionals in the Wood River Valley including Valley Apothecary pharmacists, a registered nurse and a couple of ER doctors including Dr. Brent Russell who contracted COVID-19 early on. It is a lateral flow test that separates two different antibodies. One develops after less than a week of having COVID-19, called IgM, and it stays in the body only until it has recovered from the virus. The second antibody is IgG, which develops fully after three weeks of having COVID-19 and stays in the body for a longer time period. The testing kits come from San Diego-based Confirm Biosciences and so far 70 people in the Wood River Valley have been tested, including Dr. Russell. It is hoped that the test will allow determinations to be made whether the IgG provides immunity long-term and if not, how long. The group hopes to test a large portion of the residents and visitors to the area for a robust database of information. Source: Idaho Mountain Express
- Cranney Farms sent a semi-load of Idaho spuds from Oakley, to the Bronx of New York. East Side House Settlement charity saw an article about the excess fresh potatoes and contacted CEO Ryan Cranney. The potato enterprise estimates 2 million potatoes were donated to various individuals, food banks and charitable causes. Source: KMVT News
- Riverence, the Washington-based salmon and trout egg producer who acquired local trout enterprises Evaqua and Clear Springs Foods, announced layoffs of 97 workers. The announcement did not include plans for rehire, rather stating health care is in place until the end of April, and employee assistance is available for 90 days. This layoff impacts an estimated 30 percent of its workforce according to the company and is precipitated by the drop off in food service sales. These are the wholesalers that distribute to restaurants and university food services that are closed or have drastically cut back during the COVID-19 crisis. The workforce and operations are primarily in Gooding County with some operations and overlap into Twin Falls County. Source: KMVT News, http://www.Riverence.com and Idaho Department of Labor.
- Twin Falls Livestock Commission cited a 30 percent decrease in beef cattle producers bringing livestock to the auction. The owner of the auction service believes many producers are holding onto their beef cattle in hopes that prices will rise. With the food service industry demand down due to restaurant and cafeteria closures, the demand for milk and dairy products along with beef is in a tailspin. It is unclear what will happen if the dairy farmers start culling cows instead of dumping the milk, adding to the beef supply with no significant change in demand. Source: KMVT News
Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 735-2500 ext 3639
- Delta Air Lines asked the U.S. Transportation Department for approval to suspend flights to nine U.S. airports including Lansing, Flint and Kalamazoo in Michigan, and Worcester, Massachusetts, Hilton Head, South Carolina, Pocatello, Idaho, Brunswick, Georgia and Melbourne, Florida. Delta says passengers can other use nearby airports and, between April 1 and April 22, just one to 14 passengers daily flew on the airline’s planes each way from those nine airports. Source: Reuters
- The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 upcoming commencement ceremonies will include automobile processions in lieu of traditional graduation marches. The vehicle processions, which will be broadcast live in some format, will take place along designated routes for each high school. Graduates will be asked to remain in their cars at all times and adhere to a limit of two cars per graduate. The district will stick with the same graduation dates as originally planned. New Horizon High School students will start their procession at 6 p.m. on May 28. The three other high schools will have their ceremonies on May 29, with Pocatello High School’s procession starting at noon, Highland School’s procession starting at 3 p.m. and Century High School’s procession starting at 6 p.m. Source: Idaho State Journal
- Crush the Curve Idaho, Idaho Central Credit Union and Portneuf Medical Center (PMC) have joined with other health care entities to start checking whether or not Pocatello area residents have COVID-19 antibodies. The antibody testing is scheduled to continue for at least a week at ICCU headquarters in Chubbuck. Testing is also available at PMC, Physicians Immediate Care and Bingham Memorial Hospital (Pocatello Urgent Care) as demand dictates. Source: Idaho State Journal
Esther.Eke@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 236-6710 ext. 4331
- The health care industry is feeling major financial losses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC) has seen a 42 percent drop in ER visits. Mountain View and the Idaho Falls Community Hospital have seen reductions in ER patients as well. Smaller, more rural health facilities have been hit the hardest. Teton Valley Health Care in Driggs has seen ER visits halved. Part of that is attributed to people staying home. While EIRMC, Mountain View Hospital and the Idaho Falls Community Hospital declined to provide numbers, all reported that the significant decline in patients had negatively affected their revenue. Madison Memorial Hospital reported its revenue had “decreased significantly organization-wide.” Teton Valley Health Care anticipates its revenue will be around “40 percent below normal” this month. In response, EIRMC, Teton Valley Health and Madison Memorial have all cut staff hours. Mountain View Hospital temporarily reduced the amount of paid time off (PTO) that can be accrued in a pay period by 50 percent and limited paid-time off hours to no more than four hours per day. According to hospital administrators, the CARES relief packages from the federal government will not be enough to offset losses. Source: Post Register
- In response to President Trump’s declaration that the COVID-19 pandemic has become a national emergency, Idaho National Laboratory’s Technology Deployment organization has launched the Rapid Technology Deployment Program. This program supports national relief efforts by transitioning INL innovations to industry as expeditiously as possible and removing possible delays or burdens on partners. INL will open a substantial portion of its unencumbered patent portfolio to any U.S. company that can use available inventions to help solve the current national crisis and drive strong economic development. Source: East Idaho News
- Idaho Falls Chamber has canceled its Independence Day parade due to COVID-19. This is the first time in its history that the decades-old parade has been canceled. Source: East Idaho News
- Crush The Curve Idaho have partnered with Mountain View Hospital to offer a COVID-19 antibody serology test to community members beginning Monday May 4. Testing will be available Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. at The Waterfront in Snake River Landing. Source: East Idaho News
Esther.Eke@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 236-6710 ext. 4331