COVID cases, week of Jan. 1

Blaine County recorded the fifth most new COVID cases of any Idaho county during the week ending on Jan 1, despite having a significantly smaller population than the regions ahead of it. Bonneville County has more than five times as many people as Blaine; Ada County is roughly 20 times more populated.

Blaine County’s COVID-19 case rate continued to reach new highs this week, soaring 18-fold between mid-December and Monday evening.

The seven-day moving average of new daily cases per hypothetical 100,000 residents reached a record high of 163.8 on Monday, after dropping to 8.7 on Dec. 16, the latest state Department of Health and Welfare data shows. The rate has climbed sharply during that period, and for numerous days has eclipsed the high points of other COVID-19 surges in the last 18 months.

More than 200 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in Blaine County during the week ending Jan. 1, according to Health and Welfare.

The South Central Public Health District—which serves eight counties, including Blaine County—was monitoring 306 confirmed and 116 probable COVID-19 cases in Blaine County on Monday. Those numbers were up from 85 confirmed and 17 probable COVID-19 cases being monitored on Dec. 23.

The surge in cases and an increase in the rate of tests positive for COVID-19 prompted the Health District to raise Blaine County’s risk level on Dec. 30 from “moderate” to “high.” The district assesses the COVID-19 risk of the counties it serves every two weeks.

“If cases continue at this rate, Blaine County will likely move into the critical risk category soon,” the district’s online informational dashboard stated in the assessment.

The 18-29 age category had the most new cases during the two-week period from Dec. 12-25, with 38. The district reported new cases in every age group, including 13 among people ages 30-39.

“Much of the increase has been driven by outbreaks in businesses,” said Brianna Bodily, public information officer for the Health District. “These are mostly in the hospitality industry, so most of these residents have a higher risk of disease because they interact with so many people. We still have some cases coming in from family units, but the spike we are seeing right now is largely driven by these outbreaks.”

On Monday, 19% of the COVID-19 tests in the entire St. Luke’s Health System were positive for the virus, the organization reported. In the South Central Public Health District’s COVID-19 risk model, positivity rates between 11% and 20% are deemed “high.”

On Tuesday, two of the 13 patients in the St. Luke’s Wood River hospital were being treated for COVID-19, St. Luke’s reported. The number was four on Jan. 1.

The highly transmissible omicron variant is believed by medical experts to be a major factor in the surge of COVID-19 cases across the country. On Dec. 29, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded a record-high 486,428 new COVID-19 cases in the United States, following a rising trend since it recorded around 24,000 new cases on Oct. 24.

COVID-19 has contributed to or caused more than 825,000 deaths in the United States, according to the CDC.

While omicron hasn’t been confirmed in Blaine County yet, “it is extremely likely it is in the area and spreading quickly,” Bodily said. Because less than 9% of COVID-19 cases in the region are tested to determine the strain of the virus, a variant can spread for a period before it is identified, she said.

In addition to omicron, “holiday tourism and celebrations are also likely a large factor in the increase,” Bodily said.

“Looking at the people getting sick, we know that this spike is moving quickly among residents who work in careers that serve visitors to the area and events,” she said.

After a drop in the fall, statewide case numbers in Idaho have increased since Dec. 19, when the seven-day moving average of new daily cases per 100,000 residents was 16.8. By Dec. 30, it had risen to 30.5 but dropped to 26.6 on Monday.

By Monday, the state Department of Health and Welfare had recorded 3,617 COVID-19 cases in Blaine County since the pandemic started, contributing to 27 deaths. Statewide, the department had recorded 320,802 cases and 4,169 COVID-related deaths.

As for protecting one’s health and preventing the spread of the virus, Bodily said people should “stick to the basics.”

“Wear your mask when you go into public areas, especially if you can’t social distance,” she said. “Stay home if you aren’t feeling well and get tested if you start showing COVID-19 symptoms, especially if you’ve been exposed to the disease.”

She also advised that people consider the risks of exposure before going to an event.

“Either way, you are your best advocate,” she said. “You have the most power to protect your health.” 

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