COVID-19 case counts keep falling in Idaho, even as infections are rising nationwide and a new variant is causing concern among public health experts.
Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare has reported 2,474 new COVID-19 cases since Nov. 19, a thousand fewer than the prior week. And the state’s positivity test rate fell again, albeit less than in recent weeks.
For the week of Nov. 14, the most recent data available, the positivity rate fell to 6.8%, down from 7.2% the prior week. Since the week of Sept. 5, the rate has fallen most weeks by a percentage point or more, after peaking at 17.3%.
On Monday, Idaho deactivated statewide crisis standards of care, a measure that allowed overwhelmed hospitals to prioritize patients based on need while the need for care outstripped available resources. The state spent over nine weeks in crisis standards as hospitalizations soared. The standards remain active regionally in North Idaho, which was also the first region of the state to enter crisis standards, in September. The designation is for the Panhandle Health District, which includes Kootenai, Boundary, Bonner, Benewah and Shoshone counties.
Most areas of the state are still operating on contingency standards — one level below crisis standards — and are still facing a large number of patients, according to state health officials.
As of Nov. 21, there were 318 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 hospitalized in Idaho and 93 COVID-19 patients in an intensive care unit. Those figures are down significantly from the peak on Sept. 24, when there were 772 in hospitals, 213 of whom were in ICUs.
The state added 46 deaths for the week, for a total of 3,891 since the start of the pandemic. There have been a total of 13,389 reported hospitalizations and 2,260 intensive care patients, according to state data.
Though COVID-19 cases have declined in Idaho in recent weeks, the reverse has occurred in other parts of the country. Since Oct. 24, the nationwide seven-day moving average of new cases has increased by over 47%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New variant causes international anxiety
International concern over a new variant of the coronavirus grew quickly this week. On Friday, the World Health Organization, the public health arm of the United Nations, labeled the new strain a variant “of concern.”
Though the strain’s particular attributes have not yet been conclusively identified, the designation means that health officials believe the new variant, called omicron, may cause increased transmissibility, increased virulence or a decrease in the effectiveness of vaccines or other preventative measures.
Fewer than 100 cases have been identified, according to The New York Times, but health officials are worried that a recent spike in cases in South Africa is linked to the new variant, which was first reported in that country.
“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” said a press release from the WHO.
The new variant prompted the U.S. to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other African countries starting on Monday, according to media reports. American citizens and lawful permanent residents will be exempt from the travel ban.
President Joe Biden was briefed on the new variant by Dr. Anthony Fauci on Friday, according to a statement from the White House. In the statement, Biden stressed that the best way Americans can protect themselves from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated or, if already vaccinated, get a booster shot when eligible.
Boosters are available to Americans 18 or older who are at least six months past the second dose of a two-dose vaccine, or two months past their shot if they received Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine.
All Americans 5 and older are eligible to get vaccinated. Appointments area available at Vaccines.gov.
“We need more Americans in all age groups to get this life-saving protection,” Biden said.
Long-term care update
As of Friday, Health and Welfare reports that there are 5,477 active coronavirus cases among 113 long-term care facilities. There are 237 facilities with resolved outbreaks.
To date, 982 people from 216 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 3,891 in the state.
The most recent statistics from Health and Welfare show that 80.5% 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), Burley (1), Caldwell (2), Chubbuck (2), Coeur d’Alene (12), Eagle (2), Emmett (1), Grangeville (1), Hayden (3), Idaho Falls (5), Jerome (1), Kellogg (1), Kootenai (1), Kuna (2), Lewiston (4), McCall (1), Meridian (13), Middleton (1), Moscow (1), Mountain Home (1), Nampa (6), Pinehurst (1), Pocatello (3), Post Falls (4), Rexburg (1), Rupert (1), Sandpoint (4), Silverton (1), St. Maries (1), Star (1), Twin Falls (6), Weiser (1), Winchester (1).
Vaccine doses administered in Idaho: 1,725,198, according to Health and Welfare. Of those, 855,053 people have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for 56.7% of Idahoans age 12 and older.
Test positivity rate: Out of the 30,369 COVID-19 tests conducted for the week of Nov. 14-Nov. 20, 6.8% came back positive.
For a full list of daily numbers on a county-by-county basis, visit our “What We Know” story.