As the number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in Blaine County spiked Thursday, the most recently diagnosed patients had no out-of-state travel and no identified contact with an infected person, indicating that community spread has begun, the South Central Public Health District announced yesterday.

On Wednesday night, the district announced the fifth case, a man in his 40s who hadn’t left the area. According to the Health District, the man had very mild symptoms and was recovering well at home.

That was the start of an influx of new lab-confirmed cases. Twenty-four hours later, the number of Blaine County cases hit 16 as the Health District announced 11 new local patients. Two were confirmed to be health care workers, according to Gov. Brad Little.

By press time, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding earlier reports that the coronavirus had spread to medical professionals. Contacted by reporters, a local emergency room doctor told the Idaho Mountain Express that he was told by the company not to comment on the situation. 

“Community spread” means that at last one infected person is not sure how or where they became infected. 

“It no longer matters where it started, this virus is now in our community. It is important that we take precautions to slow the spread and protect the most vulnerable among us,” district Public Health Division Administrator Logan Hudson said in Thursday’s press release. “We urge residents to follow public health recommendations to stay home as much as possible to help protect themselves and their communities.”

As the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. rose more than 3,000 overnight, some Blaine County residents have expressed fears that testing measures are not sufficient to clearly determine how widespread the coronavirus is in the community. 

Testing continues to be limited to people who meet symptom criteria. Those include fever of 100 degrees or higher, shortness of breath, coughing and body aches and anyone who may have been exposed to the virus through travel or person-to-person contact.

There is evidence that some cases of as-yet undiagnosed illness in the Wood River Valley could be linked to an annual summit of the National Brotherhood of Skiers, held in Sun Valley from Feb. 29 through March 7. According to the Brotherhood’s Facebook page and a communication sent to all club presidents, at least 126 skiers from different chapters of the national society have been ill, with at least six who were in Sun Valley testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. 

In addition, according to multiple sources in the community, 15 to 20 people began developing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 roughly one week after March 6, when they all attended an aprés ski party at River Run Lodge hosted by the Brotherhood. 

One 59-year-old Blaine County woman, whose name the Mountain Express is not disclosing, said she began experiencing symptoms late Monday or early Tuesday after the Friday, March 6, party. Those included headaches, a fever of more than 100 degrees for three days, a dry cough and a little tightness of the chest. 

As of Thursday, the woman still had a cough, but beyond feeling tired has not had an increase in symptoms. According to the woman, she tried on two occasions to get tested for COVID-19, “and they turned me down,” she told an Express reporter. 

“I would think that they would want to track this,” the woman said, explaining that she spent a lot of time hanging out with members of the Brotherhood while they were in Ketchum and Sun Valley. 

The woman also claimed that she had another symptom, an inability to smell or taste anything, which is not known to be connected to COVID-19. 

Another Blaine County woman, age 51, told the Mountain Express on Thursday that she also attended the March 6 lodge party and started feeling fatigued the following Tuesday, followed by headaches, body aches and “feeling off” on Thursday. Those symptoms progressed to a sore throat and a feeling of heaviness in the chest area. She also said she was not able to taste or smell anything.

The 51-year-old woman said she was refused testing because she did not have a high-grade fever and has been self-isolating since last week.

“Everyone’s just questioning what they actually have,” the woman said. “People need to take this more seriously.”

Finally, a Blaine County woman age 44 told the Mountain Express that she also attended the March 6 party and began experiencing symptoms similar to the other members of her group on the Wednesday following the party, March 11. According to the woman, she had a low-grade fever until Friday night along with chest issues, difficulty breathing and not being able to smell or taste anything.

The woman is a mother of three who says she was unsure of what her illness was until Saturday when she spoke with several other people who attended the March 6 party, and all reported varying degrees of the same symptoms. By Sunday the woman had become convinced that they all had a similar sickness but was denied testing through her primary care physician due to not meeting required symptoms. 

About 600 members of the Brotherhood were in Sun Valley for the annual ski summit. The National Brotherhood of Skiers did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline Thursday.

Gretel Kauffman and Mark Dee contributed reporting.

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