The South Central Public Health District raised Blaine County’s COVID-19 risk level from “high” to “critical” on Thursday based on surging test-positivity rates and case counts in the two-week period of Dec. 26 to Jan. 8.

In its bi-weekly risk assessments for the eight counties it serves, the Health District reported that Blaine County’s positivity rate for the two weeks was 35.5% and the rolling average of new daily cases per 10,000 residents was 22.3, both high in the “critical” range. Based on Blaine County’s estimated population of about 23,000, the Health District recorded an average of some 52 cases per day in the two-week span.

“Cases and positivity rate continue to trend upwards,” the district stated on its online informational dashboard. “The impact on the local hospital is minimal but impact on the regional hospital is critical due to staffing and space shortages.”

In a continuing trend of more young people getting infected with COVID-19, the 18-29 age category had the most new cases during the two-week period, with some 200 new cases. The district reported new cases in every age group, including more than 100 among people ages 30-39 and some 50 cases among children ages 0-10.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare recorded 721 new COVID-19 cases in Blaine County during the two-week period. That figure is slightly more than 3% of the county’s population.

The Public Health District stated that it is investigating cases in Blaine County schools and one long-term care facility. Because of the record-high number of cases—determined to be fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19—both case investigations and testing capacity have been affected, the district stated.

The district was monitoring 747 confirmed and 178 probable COVID-19 cases in Blaine County on Thursday. On Dec. 23, the district was monitoring 85 confirmed and 17 probable cases in Blaine County.

At the end of Thursday, the Blaine County School District reported 145 students in the School District had “active” cases of COVID-19, as well as 18 staff. Another 255 students and 22 employees were in quarantine for close contacts with individuals who tested positive. There are about 3,300 students in the School District.

On Thursday, two of the seven patients in the St. Luke’s Wood River hospital were being treated for COVID-19, St. Luke’s reported. St. Luke’s data indicates that the positivity rate for its COVID-19 tests in Blaine County was 35% on Wednesday and dropped to 12% on Thursday.

In its COVID-19 risk assessment, the Health District determined that neighboring Lincoln County had a “high” risk and Camas County had a “moderate” risk.

COVID-19 cases are also surging statewide. Idaho’s seven-day moving average of new daily cases per 100,000 residents was 67.3 on Thursday, after dropping to 16.8 on Dec. 19. (The state uses the metric of cases per 100,000, while the Health District uses 10,000.)

By Thursday, the Department of Health and Welfare had recorded 336,424 COVID-19 cases statewide and 4,263 COVID-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The department has recorded 4,258 COVID-19 cases in Blaine County since the pandemic started, contributing to 27 deaths.

Meanwhile, Health and Welfare has stated that the high numbers of recorded cases are likely significantly lower than the real numbers. There is a backlog of nearly 18,000 positive tests in Idaho that are awaiting review and follow-up by regional public health districts, the department stated Friday.

The omicron variant has been detected in Blaine County. In the last two weeks of December, 88% of positive tests sequenced for variants in Idaho were omicron, according to Health and Welfare.

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