Farewell, universal indoor masking in Boise, even though most people were ignoring it anyway. Good riddance.
At least for now.
Idahoans are still dying of COVID-19. But disease metrics in the Treasure Valley are finally trending downward. Ada County just moved out of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s highest COVID-19 alert level, where universal indoor masking is recommended, after remaining there for months.
The county shifted into the medium level, or yellow zone, on Thursday.
At the medium level, the CDC suggests immunocompromised people talk to their health care providers about whether to wear a mask and take other precautions. Lemhi County is Idaho’s only county still in the red zone.
But you may still be required to mask up in hospitals and other health care settings, and some employers might still require indoor masking. Preventative actions in health care facilities such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes are not tied to COVID-19 community levels, the CDC says.
38 Idahoans die in 4 weeks
Deaths related to COVID-19 across the state, while higher in recent months than in April and May, are significantly lower than during previous surges of the pandemic.
In the last four weeks, 38 Idahoans have died from COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, there have been 5,059 total deaths across the state, with a rate of nearly 277 deaths per 100,000 people.
Idaho Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner says the variants circulating right now are not resulting in disease as severe as the alpha and delta surges did. The delta variant tended to settle and replicate lower in the respiratory tract.
“This is likely because of differences in the mutations with regard to how they infect the person as well as higher population immunity during the most recent surges,” Turner said in an email to the Statesman.
The community immunity level from vaccination or natural infection also likely contributed to milder illness when people got infected, she added.
Turner said she expects deaths to go down in a few weeks as cases drop off at the downturn of the current surge.
“Death trends lag case trends by about three weeks,” she said.
What new case, hospital data show
New data published by the agency revealed improved positivity rates — the percentage of positive test results — and hospitalizations for many counties in the Treasure Valley. In late July, Ada, Canyon Elmore and Boise counties were all listed as high risk by the CDC’s COVID-19 community level dashboard.
Now, all of those counties are in the yellow. Here’s what the latest CDC numbers say:
Case rates. Ada County’s share of people with COVID-19 fell from 209 per 100,000 people the previous week to about 158, a 24% decrease. Canyon County’s case rate fell from 178 to about 145, nearly a 19% decline.
Hospital admissions. In Ada and Canyon counties, COVID-19 hospital admissions decreased from 18.8 per 100,00 people to 10.
Hospital beds filled. Staffed inpatient beds in use by confirmed COVID-19 patients in Ada and Canyon counties decreased from 8.7% the previous week to 7%.
The CDC does not include positive test results when it rates counties’ status, but the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare tracks the number of positive test results statewide. Positivity rates for COVID-19 decreased from 11.2% for the week of July 24-30 to 10.6% from July 31 through Aug. 6.
While the decline is a sign of progress, 10.6% is still double the 5% benchmark experts use to indicate control of the disease’s spread. And experts say the rate is likely higher, because so many people take home tests and do not report their illnesses to authorities.
CDC eases requirements for people exposed
On Thursday, the CDC updated its COVID-19 guidance, loosening testing and isolation requirements for people exposed to the disease, according to a news release.
Instead of quarantining when exposed to COVID-19, the agency now recommends people wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested on Day 5. The CDC also no longer recommends testing for asymptomatic people without known exposures.
If people do test positive for the virus, they should stay home for at least five days.
“This guidance acknowledges that the pandemic is not over but also helps us move to a point where COVID-19 no longer severely disrupts our daily lives,” the CDC’s Greta Massetti said in a statement.