Just about an hour after the news broke in a Hailey City Council meeting midday Thursday, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare confirmed the state’s first three deaths due to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.
Two are in Blaine County: a man in his 80s and another in his 60s. It remains unclear if either had underlying health issues, the department said. The third death occurred in Canyon County.
“This is very sad news, and we sent our condolences to the families and friends of each of these individuals," Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator of the department’s Division of Public Health, said in the announcement.
Many in Blaine County already knew the news—and the victims.
Just past noon, a local first responder served warning to the Hailey City Council that the virus had claimed its first life. By then, word was already widespread on social media.
In an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, the county Coroner’s Office confirmed that a resident had died from COVID-19 either Sunday or Monday. The date of the second death could not be confirmed by press time Thursday.
“The first Blaine County COVID-19 fatality has occurred,” the Blaine County commissioners confirmed in a statement Thursday afternoon. “This news is horrible to report. There are those in our community that are more at risk than others and this situation is a matter of life and death for them and, therefore, for our community.”
In the statement, the commissioners said they are working with the South Central Public Health District to extend coronavirus testing in Blaine County, the epicenter of Idaho’s outbreak thus far.
So far, though, the extent of testing remains murky. The Health District is not notified by commercial labs when tests come in—only when a positive test comes back, according to South Central spokeswoman Brianna Bodily. In addition to the state laboratory, three commercial labs are accepting Idaho samples, Bodily said.
As of 3 p.m. Thursday, the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories had tested 1,156 people in Idaho and commercial laboratories had tested 1,032. St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, which established a drive-thru screening station on March 17, didn’t comment on the number of local tests, deferring to the Department of Health and Welfare’s statistics.
Anecdotally, though, some 500 local samples have been tested, according to a joint letter to the Idaho Mountain Express signed by the physicians of the St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center’s emergency department. Most of the testing has been in the past week, the doctors said, and results take four to 14 days to turn around.
“The numbers don’t tell the full story,” the letter states. “Coronavirus is here, and it is bad.”
As of 10 a.m. Thursday, Blaine County had 66 of South Central’s 68 lab-confirmed cases of the disease, according to the Health District.
This is a developing story. Check mtexpress.com for up-to-date information throughout the weekend.