Idaho’s COVID-19 testing capability has increased “dramatically” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, state health officials say—but the percentage of tests coming back positive is “much higher” than officials would like, and hospitalization numbers statewide are at their highest point since the start of the pandemic.

The state is currently testing between 18,000 and 21,000 people per week, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in an AARP-hosted telephone town hall meeting Tuesday. That amounts to testing roughly 5 percent of Idaho’s population each month.

Of those tests, about 14.5 percent produce a positive result, Jeppesen told town hall participants: a percentage that’s “much higher than we’d like.” Ideally, Jeppesen said, about 5 percent of tests would come back positive.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations in Idaho is higher than it’s been at any point since the start of the pandemic, Jeppesen said, though hospitals are still not at capacity.

“We’re not where we’d like to be, but we’ve got a lot of things in place that we think will get us there,” Gov. Brad Little said in the town hall.

There were 15,266 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Idaho as of Monday evening, the latest numbers available at press time. Of the state’s 122 deaths, 71 were residents of long-term care facilities.

On Monday, 393 new cases were reported statewide. That’s a relatively low number when compared to other days in the past week—as upwards of 500 new cases have been reported each day since last Wednesday—but still significantly higher than the average daily numbers prior to the start of July. June 30 was the first day since the beginning of the pandemic that Idaho reported more than 300 new cases in one day.

“I’m actually excited about that [393] number because it’s coming down a bit,” Jeppesen said. “It’s not a trend yet, but we’ll see if it continues.”

In Blaine County, there were 543 confirmed cases and 15 probable cases as of Monday evening, according to the South Central Public Health District. Eight of the confirmed cases were still being monitored.

Jeppesen and Little urged Idahoans to wear a face covering in public and practice social distancing measures, remaining six feet apart from others when possible. While Blaine County and the cities of Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue and Sun Valley have all implemented legally enforceable mask mandates, there is no such mandate statewide.

“Wearing a mask is really an act of love and respect for others,” Jeppesen said. “It’s really about caring for your neighbor and it’s the best thing you can do for your neighbors right now.”

Idaho is currently in the fourth stage of Little’s coronavirus rebound plan, meaning all businesses are allowed to open, with statewide social distancing and sanitation guidelines in place. The state has been in Stage 4 since June 13.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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