Idaho’s COVID-19 week: Drop in cases, positivity rate stalls as omicron variant looms

·5 min read

As COVID-19 cases rise again in parts of the country and the new omicron variant pops up in several states, the rapid drop in COVID-19’s presence in Idaho has stalled.

After declining quickly for many weeks, from September through early November, Idaho’s test positivity rate has remained roughly the same since the second week of November, according to data from the Department of Health and Welfare.

The rate that measures the proportion of tests taken statewide that come back positive was as high as 17.3% the week of Sept. 5. It fell quickly over the next two months. The week of Nov. 7, the rate was down to 7.2%, according to state data. But the next week, it fell only slightly, to 7%. And for the week of Nov. 21, the most recent data available, it didn’t budge, remaining at 7%.

In an emailed statement, deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner said this signals a plateau.

“The percent positivity for specimens collected during the week ending November 27 is preliminary, but current data do indicate a plateauing of both positivity rates and cases reported,” she said. “Communities are considered to be experiencing high transmission when positivity rates are greater than 5%.

“While the highly transmissible delta variant is circulating throughout Idaho, the detection of the omicron variant in the United States and the tendency for people to gather for holiday celebrations have public health officials concerned about increased transmission over the next month.”

Though little is known about the new omicron variant, a rapid spike in cases and hospitalizations in South Africa has health officials concerned about the transmissibility of the new strain.

In the U.S., though case levels are still down in Mountain West states, the nationwide seven-day average of new cases has increased by about 50% since Oct. 24, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The omicron variant has now been detected in at least 11 states, including California, Utah and Colorado. It has not been detected in Idaho.

Omicron’s emergence prompted President Joe Biden to launch a new plan of attack on the pandemic this week, which includes further emphasis on vaccination and booster shots, attempting to keep schools open during outbreaks, expanding free at-home testing and implementing tighter testing requirements for in-bound international travelers, among other measures.

A higher death rate

Since last Friday, Idaho has added 3,145 COVID-19 cases and 78 deaths, according to Health and Welfare.

During the most recent surge in cases, Idaho has seen a marginal uptick in the COVID-19-related death rate, according to state data. In mid-August, the death rate was 1.07%. As of Friday, it was 1.29%.

On Tuesday, state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said at a press conference that the state was surprised by the number of deaths recorded during the most recent surge, which was linked to the delta variant.

Though the “vast majority” of deaths have been among unvaccinated people, Hahn said the state predicted that the number of vaccinated people would help lessen the total number of deaths this fall.

Around 57% of Idahoans 12 and older are vaccinated, while nearly 81% of residents 65 or older are vaccinated.

Since December 2020, the mean age of COVID-19-related deaths has fallen from nearly 78 years to younger than 71, according to state data.

Hahn said that the higher levels of vaccination among older residents has pushed the average age of death down.

“We are seeing more deaths in people in their 40s and 50s,” she said, which is “worrisome, especially because these are in populations with lower vaccination rates.”

Hahn said that some middle-age Idahoans may believe they are healthy and won’t get seriously ill from COVID-19, but many have medical conditions — obesity, diabetes, hypertension, lung disease — that put them at high risk of severe illness.

“I think seniors have gotten the message and they are getting vaccinated,” she said. “But I think it’s the middle-aged population that doesn’t see themselves at risk that we are really trying to get through to now and encourage them to go get vaccinated.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the state has reported 308,667 COVID-19 cases and 3,969 COVID-19-related deaths. There have been 13,532 total suspected or confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations and 2,285 patients in intensive care units.

As of Friday, the northernmost region of Idaho remains in crisis standards of care. Statewide, there were 293 suspected or confirmed hospitalized COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, and 92 patients in intensive care.

Long-term care update

As of Friday, Health and Welfare reports that there are 5,330 active coronavirus cases among 107 long-term care facilities. There are 244 facilities with resolved outbreaks.

To date, 999 people from 218 facilities in Idaho have died from COVID-19-related causes — 17 more than were reported last Friday. Long-term care deaths account for about 25% of the 3,969 in the state.

The most recent statistics from Health and Welfare show that 80.7% of Idahoans age 65 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Below is a list of Idaho cities along with the number of facilities in each city that have active cases among residents and/or staff. For an outbreak to be considered “resolved,” more than 28 days must pass (two incubation periods) without any additional cases associated with the facility.

Ashton (1), Blackfoot (1), Boise (24), Bonners Ferry (3), Buhl (1), Caldwell (1), Chubbuck (2), Coeur d’Alene (12), Eagle (2), Emmett (1), Grangeville (1), Hayden (2), Idaho Falls (3), Kellogg (1), Kootenai (1), Kuna (2), Lewiston (3), McCall (1), Meridian (13), Middleton (1), Mountain Home (1), Nampa (7), Payette (1), Pinehurst (1), Pocatello (3), Post Falls (4), Rathdrum (1), Rexburg (1), Sandpoint (4), Silverton (1), St. Maries (1), Star (1), Twin Falls (3), Weiser (2), Winchester (1)

Weekly snapshot

Vaccine doses administered in Idaho: 1,733,437, according to Health and Welfare. Of those, 858,814 people have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for 57% of Idahoans age 12 and older.

Test positivity rate: Out of the 21,345 COVID-19 tests conducted for the week of Nov. 21-Nov. 27, 7% came back positive.

For a full list of daily numbers on a county-by-county basis, visit our “What We Know” story.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting