The first lab-confirmed case of the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus has been discovered in Twin Falls County, and there are likely other, undiscovered cases in the region, the South Central Public Health District announced on Thursday.
The Delta variant—first found in India, where it contributed to a wide-scale health crisis—now accounts for 58% of new COVID-19 infections in the United States, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.
“The Delta variant is called the fittest and fastest for good reason,” said Tanis Maxwell, South Central Public Health District lead epidemiologist. “We’ve watched this strain spread quickly throughout India, the U.K., and now the U.S. Identifying just one case in our region means it is likely there are more that simply haven’t been identified.”
The Health District serves eight counties in the region, including Blaine County.
Evidence shows that the Delta variant is significantly more infectious than the original COVID-19 strain, the district stated. It is considered a “variant of concern” by the CDC. Evidence has shown that such variants are more transmissible, can cause more severe disease, can diminish the efficacy of antibodies, and can reduce the effectiveness of treatments and vaccines, according to the CDC.
Six cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed in Idaho, the district stated. However, testing for variants is not common practice in the state, health experts have said, meaning more likely exist.
People who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 are at low risk of contracting the virus or spreading it to others, the Health District stated in the announcmenet. As of July 13, about 42% of eligible south-central Idaho residents were fully vaccinated. That number is far lower—only about 22%—among younger residents between 12 and 34 years old, the district reported.
“All of our residents play a crucial role in stopping the disease,” said Logan Hudson, the district’s public health division administrator. “Right now, vaccines are still highly effective against the variants, but viruses can mutate to stay alive. With every new mutation/variant created, we run the risk of this virus becoming resistant to vaccines.
“The only way to stop variants from forming is to stop the virus from spreading. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, I urge you to get your vaccine as soon as possible.”
In Idaho, 45% of the eligible population of residents ages 12 and older were deemed fully vaccinated by Thursday, the state Department of Health and Welfare reported. In Blaine County, the figure was 78%.
The Health District also reported seeing a spike in overall COVID-19 cases in the region over recent weeks.
“Case rates began dropping in mid-January, as vaccination rates climbed,” the district stated. “That decline continued until mid-June, when the trend reversed, and south-central Idaho began to see a steady increase in cases.”
In Blaine County, on Monday the daily seven-day moving average of new cases hit its highest number since mid-May, at 4.3. It had fallen to zero in the second week of June.
In Idaho and most other U.S. states, COVID-19 cases have also been trending upward, data indicates.
However, evidence suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines are keeping people from getting the virus or from getting severely ill from the virus.
In the South Central Public Health District, 94% of cases reported since June have been in residents who did not get a COVID-19 vaccine, the district reported. In a recent report, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare stated that 98.7% of COVID-related hospitalizations in the state from Jan. 1 to July 3 were in residents who had no record of being vaccinated. In the same period, 99.1% of infections were in people who were not vaccinated, as well as 98.8% of COVID-related deaths, the department reported.
“Our current rates mimic the trends we saw last summer,” Maxwell said. “A small surge in cases in the middle of summer, and then a huge surge in the fall. We can still prevent that massive fall surge if enough residents receive their vaccine now. Time is running out to get our communities fully vaccinated before people begin gathering indoors again.”
In Idaho, anyone age 12 or older can receive a COVID-19 vaccine for free. People ages 12 to 17 can only receive the two-dose Pfizer vaccine. Minors must have parental consent or a special exemption to be vaccinated.
People can schedule a vaccine appointment or check for walk-in clinics in their area at https://www.phd5.idaho.gov/Covid-vaccine/.
The Health District is running two COVID-19 informational hotlines, one in English at 208-737-1138, and one in Spanish at 208-737-5965. People can also email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.