Two variants of the coronavirus that could pose an increased risk to public health have been discovered in Blaine County.
The Twin Falls-based South Central Public Health District announced Friday that it had received laboratory confirmation of 12 cases of the COVID-19 California variant, known as B.1.429, and four confirmed cases of the United Kingdom variant, known as B.1.1.7, in Blaine County. To date, COVID-19 variants have not been discovered in any other counties in its eight-county region, the district stated.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified both variants as a “Variant of Concern.”
“These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19,” the CDC states on its website. “An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on health care resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.”
To date, studies have indicated “that antibodies generated through vaccination with currently authorized vaccines recognize these variants,” the CDC said.
Variants have been identified in other areas of the state, the district stated.
“With the emergence of these variants in south-central Idaho, it is imperative, now more than ever, to follow public health recommendations to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” the district stated.
The recommendations include wearing a mask when in public, washing your hands often and avoiding touching your face, staying home when sick except to seek medical attention, maintaining space between yourself and others not of the same household, avoiding large gatherings and getting vaccinated.
“Our COVID-19 case numbers are at some of the lowest rates we’ve seen since this pandemic started,” said Tanis Maxwell, a district epidemiologist. “Even with a variant in our community, we can keep those numbers low if we work together to slow the spread of disease. As the vaccine is being made widely available, we encourage those who wish to receive one to sign up now and help reduce the spread.”
People can schedule an appointment for vaccination through the South Central Public Health District website: phd5.idaho.gov/Covid-vaccine/.
All Idahoans 16 and older are eligible to be vaccinated. Of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines—Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson—only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for people 16-18. Minors need parental consent to receive the vaccine.
The district is running two COVID-19 informational hotlines, one in English at 208-737-1138 and one in Spanish at 208-737-5965. The hotlines are operating from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
By Monday night, 181,836 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in Idaho since the pandemic began last winter, with 337 new cases that day. In Idaho, 1,972 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.