21-05-12 St. Luke's Mobile Vaccine Unit 10  Roland.jpg

Around 84% of eligible Blaine County residents are fully vaccinated, compared to just over half of the state as a whole.

As local governments assess whether to reinstitute health orders in response to the ongoing COVID-19 surge, the latest data indicates that the threat posed by the novel coronavirus in Idaho has not abated.

The state recorded 1,436 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported. By comparison, that figure was at 47 just prior to the Fourth of July holiday. The state has now recorded a total of 235,343 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started in 2020—some 22,000 of which came in the past month.

The South Central Public Health District—which serves eight counties, including Blaine—was monitoring 158 confirmed and 20 probable COVID-19 cases in Blaine County on Tuesday. Those numbers are nearly double the number of cases it was monitoring two weeks earlier and about four times the number a month earlier.

The Blaine County School District reported 24 active COVID-19 cases among students and two among staff on Tuesday. An additional 89 students and three staff were in quarantine because of COVID-19 exposure.

Statewide, the seven-day rolling average of cases per 100,000 residents was 55.6 on Monday, Health and Welfare reported. That figure was 3.8 on July 1. In Blaine County, the seven-day rolling average per hypothetical 100,000 residents was 37.2 on Monday. It was at zero for a full week in early June.

The high numbers of new COVID-19 cases are continuing to put pressure on Idaho hospitals and their staffs. On Friday, the state set a new record during the pandemic for the number of COVID-related hospitalizations, with 626 COVID-19 patients being treated in 42 Idaho hospitals and clinics. The previous record was set two days before.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Idaho ICUs has been setting records daily in recent weeks, with the number standing at 169 on Friday, six ICU beds remained available in the state that day, Health and Welfare reported. On Monday, 12 ICU beds were available statewide.

On Monday, St. Luke’s Wood River had 18 patients in the hospital, with two them being treated for COVID-19.

In the broader St. Luke’s Health System, 77 patients were in ICU beds Monday, with 64 of those patients positive for COVID-19. That same day, almost 99% of those COVID-19 patients were unvaccinated, St. Luke’s reported.

In response to the spike in COVID-19 cases, the city of Hailey reinstituted a mask mandate on Monday. Leaders in Blaine County followed Tuesday morning. Ketchum and Sun Valley were both scheduled later in the day Tuesday to decide whether to impose new health orders.

Meanwhile, Idaho’s rate of vaccination against COVID-19 remains low compared to some states and the nation. In Idaho, 50.1% of the eligible 12-and-older population is fully vaccinated, the Department of Health and Welfare reported Tuesday. Nationally, that number is 63.1%, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

The COVID-19 vaccination rate in Blaine County is the highest in the state, with 84% of the eligible 12-and-older population fully vaccinated. An additional 8% has received one dose of a two-dose vaccine series, according to the Department of Health and Welfare. In neighboring Camas County, 38% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Case numbers remain elevated nationally but came down on Sunday, when about 40,000 new cases were recorded, compared to approximately 160,000 new cases on Friday, the CDC reported. The nation’s seven-day moving average of new cases remains above 100,000. That number was hovering around 10,000 in mid-June.

The CDC rated Blaine County in the “high” COVID-19 transmission category on Sunday, with 77 cases recorded in the previous seven days. People in counties where the CDC has rated the transmission level as “high” or “substantial” are advised by the CDC to wear protective masks when indoors, including people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Every county in Idaho had “high” levels of transmission—the highest level on the CDC’s scale—on Sunday, the agency reported.

District keeps COVID-19 risk level at ‘critical’

The South Central Public Health District maintained Blaine County’s COVID-19 risk level at “critical” last Thursday, Sept. 9, warning that the ongoing surge in cases is continuing to test the capacity of regional hospitals.

“The local and regional hospitals are highly impacted. The local hospital is taking in patients from around the region,” the Health District’s online informational dashboard states.

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

Blaine County’s average rate of new cases continued to rise since the last risk assessment two weeks earlier, the district reported. Like 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 Health District stated.

The Health District continued to investigate a COVID-19 outbreak in the Blaine County jail and is investigating cases in Blaine County schools, but investigations continue to be slowed by the 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, 99 new COVID cases were recorded in Blaine County, more than twice the number in the previous two-week period. Eighteen were recorded in the 30-39 age group and 15 in the 18-29 age bracket. Fourteen cases were reported in the 0-10 age group, 13 in the 40-49 group, 12 among people ages 60-69, and 11 in the 50-59 age group. An additional seven were recorded in the 70-plus age category, five in the 14-17 age group and four among adolescents ages 11-13.

The rate of positive tests for COVID-19 was up significantly at 7.34%, from 4.98% two weeks earlier. The 14-day rolling average of new cases per 10,000 residents was 3.07, up from 1.27 two weeks earlier.

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

The risk assessment released last week used data from Aug. 26 to Sept. 9. 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.

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