21-01-13 Vaccine_St Lukes@.JPG

The return of elementary schoolers to four days a week—like these kids at Hemingway STEAM School in Ketchum—has been “really successful in any way you look at it,” Superintendent Fritz Peters told the school board Tuesday night.

Blaine County’s rate of positive tests for COVID-19 has dropped significantly but the county remains at the “critical” risk level for the virus, a county risk assessment released Thursday states.

The primary factor in the overall “critical” rating—the highest of the county’s four risk levels—is the rate of new daily cases per hypothetical 100,000 residents, which has been well above the “critical” threshold for numerous weeks.

In its risk-assessment model using data from Feb. 7-13, the county’s rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive decreased to 7.22% from 13.65% the previous week. In the model, a positivity rate between 5% and 10% is considered “high.”

In the same time period, the county’s number of new daily cases per 100,000 decreased to 44.1 from 56.5 the previous week, based on a seven-day average. A rate above 25 per 100,000 is considered “critical.”

The Twin Falls-based South Central Public Health District is investigating an “active outbreak” in a Blaine County long-term care facility, the county’s online informational dashboard states.

The 30-39 age group recorded the highest number of new cases, with 18 in the seven-day span. The next highest age group was 18-29, with 16 new cases in the county.

The impact of COVID-19 on local and regional hospital capacity was assessed as “minimal.” On Wednesday, St. Luke’s Wood River hospital south of Ketchum had no COVID patients, St. Luke’s reported. St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, a regional hospital in Twin Falls, had nine COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, well below numbers recorded in late fall and early winter.

“Taking all major factors into account, the overall determined risk level is critical,” the county’s online informational dashboard states.

Last week, the county warned of a potential surge in COVID-19 infections linked to tourism and travel in Blaine County, which spikes around the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend. The Feb. 7-13 data used in the latest assessment would not include any such cases but, so far, a surge has not developed. In recent days, the county’s seven-day average of new daily cases per 100,000 has continued to drop, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare data indicate. On Wednesday, it was 29.2, considerably lower but still in the “critical” range of the county’s risk-assessment model.

COVID case numbers, deaths still climbing

The Department of Health and Welfare by Thursday morning had recorded 168,353 cases of COVID-19 in Idaho since the pandemic began last winter, including 408 new cases on Wednesday. The state has recorded 1,817 COVID-related deaths.

Blaine County has recorded 2,130 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, with 16 deaths attributed to the virus, including one reported this week. The death was of a woman in her 90s living in a long-term care facility, the South Central Public Health District reported. (It is unclear whether the woman lived at the facility experiencing the outbreak.) The Health District is monitoring 398 COVID-19 cases in Blaine County.

Meanwhile, as the federal government works to increase shipments of approved COVID-19 vaccines, health-care providers across the state are working to accelerate vaccination of Idahoans deemed eligible. Providers are administering vaccines based on directions from the state and Gov. Brad Little, with guidance from the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee.

As of earlier this month, Idaho has been receiving about 25,000 doses of approved COVID vaccines per week. Statewide, 268,011 doses of COVID vaccines had been administered to 196,332 people by Thursday morning, with 71,679 people receiving the recommended two doses, the Department of Health and Welfare reported. Vaccines have been administered to 4,522 people in Blaine County, the department reported.

Vaccine supplies are falling short of demand, health-care providers—including St. Luke’s—have reported. President Joe Biden said this week that he believes the United States will have enough supplies of federally approved COVID-19 vaccines to have them widely available to the general public by late July.

Idaho health agencies have predicted that members of the general public—essentially all Idahoans over age 16 who were not deemed eligible earlier—could become eligible for vaccination by late spring, but note that existing timelines are estimates. The COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee will meet again today, Feb. 19, to continue its work to guide the vaccination effort.

As many thousands of Idahoans await an opportunity to get vaccinated, health officials have advised that residents follow standard COVID-19 mitigation measures, primarily wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, practicing diligent hand hygiene and limiting social gatherings.

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