After the South Central Public Health District determined Blaine County’s COVID-19 risk level to be “moderate” on Thursday, July 29, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has continued to rate the county’s coronavirus transmission level as “substantial.”

The CDC determined its rating on Sunday, based on COVID-19 case rate and testing data from the previous seven days. The CDC advises all people in counties where the CDC has rated the transmission level as either “high” or “substantial”—including people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19—to wear protective masks when indoors in public places.

The CDC issued the new mask guidelines last week. Several major corporations, including Walmart, Target, Home Depot and McDonald’s, followed with new mask requirements for their own employees.

Numerous Idaho counties have “high” transmission levels, largely grouped in the southeast, the southwest and the far north of the state, according to the CDC. Blaine County neighbors Lincoln and Camas counties were in the CDC’s “low” category on Sunday, two of only four counties at that level.

Increasing levels of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 have been attributed in part to the emergence of the Delta variant of the virus. Last week, the CDC acknowledged that the Delta variant is more transmissible than the viruses that cause Ebola, the common cold, the flu and smallpox, and can be transmitted as easily as the highly contagious chickenpox virus.

The CDC has also discovered that the Delta variant can more readily cause “breakthrough” cases, in which vaccinated people can be infected by the virus and can spread it to others, even if their symptoms are mild or not obvious. However, data indicates that almost all hospitalizations and deaths caused by COVID-19 in the United States are among unvaccinated people.

The challenges now posed by the Delta variant and surging case numbers across the nation have prompted the CDC to state—in an internal document made public—that “the war has changed.”

On Friday, the CDC recorded more than 101,000 new cases in the nation, with the seven-day moving average of new cases at more than 72,000. The seven-day moving average was fluctuating between 10,000 and 15,000 for much of June. On Sunday, it stood at just above 63,000.

COVID-related deaths are also on the rise. On Sunday, the seven-day moving average of deaths attributed to COVID-19 was 284, the CDC reported. On July 10, it was 172, and has been steadily trending upwards since that date.

Locally, the Twin Falls-based South Central Public Health District—which serves eight Idaho counties, including Blaine—released its latest risk assessments for the counties last Thursday. The risk level in Blaine County was determined to be “moderate.” The assessment, which is done every two weeks, used data from July 11-24.

Two weeks earlier, the risk in Blaine and the district’s other seven counties was determined to be “minimal”—the lowest of four risk categories. Last Thursday, six of the eight counties in the district were in the “moderate” category, while two remained at “minimal” risk.

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In Idaho, 46.1% of people eligible to be vaccinated are fully vaccinated, the state reported. Anyone age 12 or older is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, which is free.

“Blaine County’s average new case rate is rising quickly,” the district’s online informational dashboard states. “ … Local hospitals are experiencing an increasing number of admitted COVID-19 patients and are moderately impacted overall.”

The Health District is investigating an “active outbreak” in a Blaine County long-term care facility, the dashboard states. On Monday, the district was monitoring 26 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Blaine County and three probable cases.

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

In the 14-day period, Blaine County recorded 24 new COVID cases. Seven were in the 30-39 age group, four in the 14-17 age group, three in each of the 0-10 and 18-29 age groups, two in each of the 40-49 and 50-59 age groups, and one in each of the 11-13, 60-69 and 70-plus groups.

The rate of positive tests for COVID-19 was 5.12% and the 14-day rolling average of new cases per 10,000 residents was 0.74. Two weeks earlier, the positivity rate was 2.33% and the 14-day rolling average of new cases per 10,000 residents was 0.31.

Numerous health-care organizations in Idaho and other U.S. regions have reported an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among younger people.

The surge in COVID-19 cases and news about the Delta variant have now coincided with an increase in the number of people seeking vaccinations in various part of the country, including Idaho. From the week of July 18 to the week of July 25, the number of vaccinations administered in the state jumped from 14,000 to 17,000, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported.

In Idaho, 46.1% of people eligible to be vaccinated are fully vaccinated, the department reported. Anyone age 12 or older is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, which is free.

Blaine County has the highest vaccination rate in Idaho, with 80% of the eligible population fully vaccinated and an additional 7% having received one dose of a two-dose regimen.

Brianna Bodily, public information officer for the South Central Public Health District, said the district is promoting COVID-19 vaccinations as a safe, effective means to combat the pandemic.

“Vaccination is such an incredible tool in the fight against disease,” she said. “It has been proven time and time again over the last few decades. However, if one of our residents chooses not to get vaccinated, they can still take steps to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

“Staying home when you are sick (even if it’s just a sniffle) does wonders in preventing disease spread. Washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask around people, and social distancing also continue to be excellent methods to help prevent the spread of disease. They are not as effective as vaccination, especially if you are asymptomatic, but they can make a big difference for you and your community’s health.”

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