Ketchum

Heading into the weekend, the South Central Public Health District has classified Blaine County's COVID-19 risk level as minimal.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare counted 542 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 statewide today, raising the total to 27,173. That means about 1.5 percent of Idahoans--roughly one in 67 people--have been diagnosed with the disease, using the state's most recent population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Since yesterday, coronavirus was considered a contributing factor in another 14 deaths, leaving the Idaho death toll at 265.

The health department counted five more confirmed and one more probable case of COVID-19 among Blaine County residents today, leaving those totals at 568 confirmed and 16 probable.

Meanwhile, health agencies offer new ways to analyze the coronavirus situation, a local antibody testing initiative faces obstacles from the federal government and Shoshone-Bannock Tribes take another big step towards saving the endangered sockeye salmon. Here are those and other top stories from Friday, Aug. 14.

• The South Central Public Health District has implemented its new Regional Risk Summary on its dedicated coronavirus website. This tool analyzes data from hospitals, trends in COVID-19 testing, PPE availability, epidemiological information, coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths, and syndromic surveillance of emergency department visits with COVID-like symptoms to determine threat levels in each of the district’s eight counties.

The risk levels vary from minimal to moderate to high to critical. Currently, Blaine County’s risk level is listed as minimal, as is Camas County’s. Jerome, Lincoln, Gooding and Twin Falls are considered at a moderate risk level. Cassia and Minidoka Counties are at the high risk level.

The health district will update the risk summary every two weeks. Visit the page at phd5.idaho.gov/CoronaVirus or click here to read about the tool.

• Members of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes broke ground on a new fish weir at Pettit Lake Creek, the latest move in the tribes’ long and significant history with sockeye salmon. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of tribe members, scientists and salmon advocates, the outlook is positive for this year’s sockeye return as the first fish approaches the spawning waters. Our Tony Evans has the whole story on the project, the sockeye’s slow recovery from the brink of extinction, and the importance of this fish to the region’s biology and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ cultural heritage.

• The federal government has slapped a local coronavirus antibody testing initiative with a cease-and-desist order. The COVID-19 Response Group was administering more than 100 rapid-result, lateral-flow assay tests per day since resuming testing Aug. 3. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declared the kits need to be interpreted in high-complexity labs. The response group maintains it has done nothing wrong and that its operation is legally covered by the same laboratory waivers that most doctor’s offices and nursing homes possess to administer similar lateral-flow tests for other ailments.

• St. Luke’s informational coronavirus dashboard, launched this week, offers new insights into how the pandemic developed in Blaine County and other areas within the St. Luke’s Health System. Moving forward, the dashboard will maintain up-to-date hospitalization and testing data, available for all to see online at any time.

• The Blaine County School District Board of Trustees is open to the idea of changing reopening plans on a school-by-school basis depending on how the coronavirus situation plays out this school year. Chairman Keith Roark allowed as how certain schools--like Carey School, for instance--may find it easier to follow social distancing guidelines at full capacity than other schools. Roark said he’d be willing to review a reopening plan from the Carey principal in that event. For now, though, the discussion remains hypothetical.

For more top local and regional news, pick up a copy of today’s Idaho Mountain Express, or visit mtexpress.com at any time.

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