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The 25-bed St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center south of Ketchum is accepting non-COVID transfers from other regional hospitals, officials said. 

The South Central Public Health District maintained Blaine County’s COVID-19 risk level at “critical” last Thursday, Sept. 23, warning that high case counts are continuing to put pressure on regional hospitals.

“The state has declared Crisis Standards of Care for all of Idaho because area hospitals are highly impacted by COVID-19,” the Health District’s online informational dashboard states. “The local hospital is taking in patients from around the region.”

St. Luke’s Wood River representatives have stated that the hospital is accepting non-COVID transfers from other facilities on their own volition.

The “critical” level is the highest risk rating in the Health District’s assessment model.

Blaine County’s average rate of new cases is still elevated, the district reported. As in the previous assessment, the district noted that there are more COVID-19 cases in Blaine County than what is reflected in average case rates reported by the state and health agencies.

“The local hospital is also reporting a larger number of visitors testing positive for COVID-19 who will not be reflected in the county case average.” the district stated.

The Health District has continued to investigate a COVID-19 outbreak in the Blaine County jail and is investigating cases in a long-term care facility and in Blaine County schools. However, investigations continue to be slowed by the high volume of cases, the district stated.

The district’s risk model takes into consideration the number of new cases, the rate of positive tests for the virus, hospital capacity and other factors. Its four risk categories are minimal, moderate, high and critical.

In the 14-day period, 96 new COVID cases were recorded in Blaine County, the district reported. Seventeen were recorded in the 40-49 age group and 16 in the 50-59 age category. Thirteen cases were reported in the 18-29 age group, 12 in the 60-69 group, 10 among people ages 30-39, and nine in the 0-10 age group. An additional seven were recorded in the 70-plus age group and six in each of the 11-13 and 14-17 age categories.

The rate of positive tests for COVID-19 was up slightly at 8.27%, from 7.34% two weeks earlier. The 14-day rolling average of new cases per 10,000 residents was 2.98, down marginally from 3.07 two weeks earlier.

The Health District was monitoring 136 confirmed and 29 probable COVID-19 cases in Blaine County on Friday. By Sunday, 2,743 cases had been recorded in Blaine County, the state Department of Health and Welfare reported.

The Health District determined that Camas, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls counties also had “critical” COVID-19 risk levels.

The risk assessment released last week used data from Sept. 5-18. It is conducted every two weeks. The assessments are intended to inform residents of COVID-19 risk and to guide public officials and agencies in their responses.

COVID-19 cases put strain on health-care systems

Statewide, high numbers of new COVID-19 cases are continuing to put pressure on Idaho health-care facilities. On Sept. 20, the state set a record during the pandemic for the number of COVID-related hospitalizations, with 760 COVID-19 patients being treated in 47 Idaho hospitals and clinics. The number dropped to 689 on Sept. 21 and 481 on Sept. 22, Health and Welfare reported.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Idaho ICUs has been setting records daily in recent weeks. Last Thursday, nine ICU beds were available statewide, while 14 were open on Friday, Health and Welfare reported.

In the St. Luke’s Health System—the state’s largest health-care system—581 patients were in hospital beds Friday, with 269 of those patients positive for COVID-19. That same day, 100% of the COVID-19 patients in St. Luke’s ICUs were unvaccinated against the virus, St. Luke’s reported.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s rate of vaccination against COVID-19 remains low, compared to some states and the nation. In Idaho, 51.8% of the eligible 12-and-older population is fully vaccinated, the Department of Health and Welfare reported. Nationally, that number is 64.7%, the agency reported.

The COVID-19 vaccination rate in Blaine County is the highest in the state, with 85% of the eligible 12-and-older population fully vaccinated, Health and Welfare reported. An additional 8% have received one dose of a two-dose vaccine series.