As Idaho continues to set new record highs for the number of coronavirus cases documented daily, Blaine County remained in the “critical” risk category for the virus on Thursday, based on new data assessed through the county’s risk model.

The county’s risk level is updated through the model every Thursday. The latest assessment on Nov. 5 used data from Oct. 25-31.

“Blaine County’s average new case rate has been in the critical zone for several weeks and continues to increase,” the county’s online informational dashboard states. “Investigation and contact tracing efforts are impacted due to a surge in cases around the region.”

Two of the primary statistics used in the model for coronavirus risk fell into the “critical” category, the highest risk rating in the county’s model. The rate of positive coronavirus tests in the county was 13.6 percent over the seven-day period. The number of new daily cases per 100,000 residents, based on a seven-day average, was 33.5.

Fourteen new cases were recorded in the 30-39 age group, the highest increase of all age categories.

On Thursday, the South Central Public Health District—which covers eight counties, including Blaine—also updated its own risk assessment model. Camas County remained in the “high” risk level. Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls counties all remained “critical.”

The new risk assessments came on the heels of Idaho health officials announcing that the state on Tuesday and Wednesday set new records for the highest number of coronavirus cases documented in a single day. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported 1,179 new confirmed and probable cases on Tuesday—the most in a single day at the time. That number was exceeded on Wednesday, when the state recorded 1,290 new cases. By Wednesday evening, the state had recorded a total of 68,314 cases since early March. Of those, an estimated 36,440 are still being monitored by health officials. 

According to state health officials, the coronavirus has contributed to the deaths of 664 Idahoans. The most coronavirus-related deaths the state has reported in a single day is 18.

The state reported eight new cases among Blaine County residents Wednesday, leaving local totals at 895 confirmed and 52 probable. There were 13 new cases of coronavirus reported in Blaine County on Tuesday. As of Wednesday, the South Central Public Health District was monitoring 138 active cases in Blaine County.

St. Luke’s Health System reported on Wednesday that it had a 10 percent rate of positive tests for that day and an 18 percent rate averaged over the previous 14 days.

Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients have continued to be high. At St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, two COVID-19 patients were being treated at the hospital Wednesday. The surge has been more pronounced at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, in Twin Falls, where 46 COVID-19 patients were being treated Wednesday.

COVID-19 cases have also been surging on a national level. On Thursday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there have been 9,570,319 cases of coronavirus and 234,270 COVID-19-related deaths in the nation since Jan. 21.

State and local health orders remain in effect, mandating limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings, social distancing and a variety of other measures to prevent the spread of the potentially deadly virus.

Brianna Bodily, public information officer for the South Central Public Health District, said the surge of coronavirus cases in Idaho has made it difficult to investigate all of them, but information is being gathered and some trends are being identified.

“We continue to see most of our cases spread within family units,” she stated in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express. “Typically, one person in the family picks up the disease from a small gathering and brings it home, where everyone else is infected. Those gatherings sometimes include work, but have mostly been sporting events and outings with friends.”

Investigation work—talking to people who have tested positive—and contact tracing—tracking and warning people who were in contact with the infected person—has not occurred for every case, Bodily said, because the “wave of cases has overwhelmed our investigation team.” Since Oct. 1, the daily case average has “more than tripled across the district,” she said.

“We have reminded people that they shouldn’t wait for our call to isolate and warn their close contacts,” Bodily said. 

Testing in the district has increased, Bodily said.

“In August, about 2,000 people were getting tested a week in the district,” she said. “In September, that rose to about 3,000 and hit an average around 4,000 by October.”

Bodily said there is evidence that mitigation measures—such as mask mandates, social distancing and restrictions on gatherings—do help to slow the spread of the virus.

“We saw case counts fall dramatically in Blaine County this summer, in the height of a busy tourist season,” she said. “Camas County enacted a mask mandate after a huge outbreak in a local school, and cases have stayed low ever since.”

The basic guidelines for individuals to protect themselves and others “haven’t changed in months,” Bodily said.

“Watch your distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, stay home when you are sick.”

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