2021 Rock WRHS

Students painted a boulder outside the Wood River High School before the school year started. Like the figures on the rock, students have had to follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks. Heading into autumn, though, debates over stricter rules have dominated recent school board meetings. Check out Friday's issue of the Idaho Mountain Express for full coverage.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported 718 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 statewide today. That's the largest single-day increase in Idaho since Aug. 5. With today's increase, Idaho's total has surpassed 50,000 for a grand total of 50,610 cases. That's roughly 2.8 percent of the state's population. Of the total, an estimated 24,879--nearly half--are considered active cases.

The health department considered coronavirus a contributing factor in one more death since yesterday, leaving the state's death toll at 517.

According to the state, Blaine County gained nine more confirmed cases of COVID-19, raising that total to 747. The county has two fewer probable cases than yesterday, 41, likely because those two were reclassified as confirmed. Every other county in the South Central Public Health District also saw their numbers rise today, except Camas County.

Keep reading for updates on Blaine County’s coronavirus risk, tonight’s COVID-19 town hall, Ketchum’s LOT and more news from Thursday, Oct. 15.

• Blaine County updated its COVID-19 transmission risk assessment today. Drawing upon figures collected between Oct. 4-10, the county is at a critical risk level, based on metrics designed by the Harvard Global Health Institute. "Critical" is the highest designation on the four-point scale. This is based on a 15.41 percent positive test rate for Blaine County residents and a seven-day average of 32.9 new cases per 100,000 residents.

“At the red level, communities have reached a tipping point for uncontrolled spread" and cities, counties, and/or the South Central Public Health District] may institute any of several precautionary measures and mitigation strategies, the dashboard states. These could include stay-at-home orders, stricter enforcement of face coverings, a ban on social gatherings, business closures, travel advisories and quarantines, among others.

No local government has yet moved toward those acts following the risk level update, though earlier this week Hailey did amend its health order for stricter requirements. Click here to read about that. Click here to visit Blaine County’s COVID-19 dashboard.

• Incidentally, Blaine County leaders will hold a virtual COVID-19 town hall tonight, beginning at 6 p.m. Scheduled panelists include all three county commissioners, South Central Public Health District Director Melody Bowyer, and Dr. Terry O’Connor, St. Luke’s emergency physician and medical director of the Blaine County Ambulance District.

In case you missed our earlier announcement, click here for more information.

• Receipts from local-option taxes were down 5.45 percent in the city of Ketchum for fiscal year 2020. While a few categories showed gains, others decreased significantly year over year, especially in the early months of the pandemic. Liquor-by-the-drink sales, for example, were down 91 percent in April compared to April 2019.

• Dr. Julie Lyons, a St. Luke’s family medicine physician who is advising the Blaine County School District on its handling of COVID-19, spoke to the Idaho Mountain Express this week to emphasize the importance of precautionary measures to keep people healthy and avoid a second lockdown. In slowing the spread of the virus, the community can maintain the goal of keeping schools open and keeping students in the classrooms, she said.

• Today is the last day to respond to the 2020 U.S. Census after the Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration could end field operation before Oct. 31, a date previously determined by an injunction from a federal judge. Overall, Blaine County’s response rate was down a little from 2010. Based on the most recent available data from the Census Bureau, 41.5 percent of households in the county have responded.

• The Bellevue City Council voted to join the Wood River Valley Wildlife Smart Communities Coalition. The goal of the grassroots group is to head off human-wildlife encounters that can be hazardous to both.

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

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