South central Idaho has more doubled its weekly COVID-19 case count in the past four weeks, the South Central Public Health District said in a statement on Tuesday.
In the week beginning Aug. 30, the district registered 187 new cases across its eight counties—Camas, Lincoln, Gooding, Blaine, Minidoka, Jerome, Cassia and Twin Falls. The district counted 471 new cases for the week ending Sept. 26.
“We’re seeing consistent case increases in six of our eight counties,” Public Health Division Administrator Logan Hudson said in the press release. “This isn’t one event exposing people to the disease. This isn’t one county facing a surge. We’re looking at an increasing trend across most of the district that may continue to rise if people don’t take precautions.”
In that four-week period, infection rates spiked significantly in six of the eight counties. Lincoln County’s new case count has decreased, and Jerome’s spiked at the beginning of September before returning relatively near its starting point.
Minidoka’s numbers have more than tripled, Twin Falls’ have more than doubled. Cassia County’s numbers have increased from seven in the week beginning Aug. 30 to 96 in the week ending Sept. 26.
Blaine County, too, has seen its first significant spike in months, counting seven new cases in the first half of September and 54 in the second half. On Saturday, Blaine County experienced its largest single-day increase in cases since April 8, adding 11 new confirmed cases, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
The district also reported that Sept. 24 saw the largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases across the eight counties: 151 new confirmed and probable cases.
“Most of the spread we are seeing starts when one person is infected at work or at a social event and then unintentionally brings the disease home to their family,” Epidemiology Program Manager Tanis Maxwell stated in Tuesday’s release. “If we can incorporate social distancing and mask use into our daily lives we can continue to socialize but protect our families from disease.”
The health district’s announcement came shortly after Blaine County voted to be excluded from the district’s COVID-19 risk assessment system, favoring the Harvard Global Health Institute’s metric instead.
Last week, health officials joined together to urge citizens to seek influenza vaccination as soon as possible, fearing excessive strain on the state’s hospital system.
The district is currently operating two hotlines for information about COVID-19: one in Spanish, at 208-737-5965, and one in English at 208-737-1138. The hotline is open on business days from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For up-to-date information on local and regional COVID-19 cases, visit the health district at www.phd5.idaho.gov/CoronaVirus.
Blaine County responds
As cases mount once more, local entities prepare for the winter.
Hailey Mayor Martha Burke said that county leaders—including fellow mayors, county commissioners and representatives from St. Luke’s, the South Central Public Health District, Blaine County School District and Blaine County Disaster Services—met on Monday morning to discuss the rise in COVID-19 cases.
“We had our cases almost double in the last week. There are 40 students and staff that are not in school because they are either quarantining or have had family members test positive,” Burke said, referencing a Monday report from BCSD Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes. “We have to remind our neighbors and friends to wear masks and social-distance.”
Burke said those reminders will be especially important as the pandemic continues and people begin to experience more COVID fatigue.
“I want to make sure the community knows that we’re seeing a bit of a spike—we’ve got to get that under control. We want our children to [stay] in school and we want our restaurants to continue to function,” she said.
Burke added that she was concerned about students walking or biking home from school in large groups without masks.
In a Tuesday interview with the Mountain Express, St. Luke’s pediatrician Dr. Katie Quayle said kids should continue wearing masks around their friends after school gets out.
“Even if they’re just walking home from school, it’s important that every kid over two years old wears a mask outside when they can’t [social distance],” she said. “That should be the general rule.”