The week of Jan. 9, more than one in three people who got tested for COVID-19 in Idaho were infected, according to state data.
The new data, which is delayed a week and posted on Thursdays, shows the positivity rate for the week of Jan. 9 was 34.1%, representing the highest rate since the pandemic began and a remarkable rise over a period of weeks.
Prior to the current surge, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant, Idaho’s previous positivity rate record was reported in November 2020, when it was 19.1%. The new record is 15 percentage points higher — a massive bump.
And as recently as the week of Dec. 12, the positivity rate was 5.5%.
Public health officials consider control of a respiratory pandemic to be a positivity rate of 5% or less, which they say would indicate the virus is not spreading as widely in the community.
Idaho’s current numbers show the state is far from that, with a rate nearly seven times that figure.
“This is absolutely on fire, out of control,” said Dr. David Peterman, CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, a large primary care provider in the Treasure Valley, by phone on Saturday. Between Jan. 10 and Jan. 14, Primary Health tested record numbers of patients and clocked in a positivity rate of 46.7%, even higher than the state percentage.
Idaho’s case numbers are also breaking daily records, despite local public health districts recording a backlog of 33,500 positive cases over the last two weeks that have yet to be added to the state data.
On Wednesday, the state recorded 4,532 new cases, the most on any day since the pandemic began. Since each positive case is investigated by local public health districts before it is recorded in the tally, the number of cases reported on a particular day during the surge could include positive samples that were collected days earlier, a spokesperson for Health and Welfare said.
Unlike the daily case investigations, each week’s positivity rate data is computed separately, meaning that backlogs in case data do not impact the test rate, deputy state epidemiologist Kathryn Turner said at a Tuesday press briefing.
While omicron has been known to cause breakthrough vaccine infections, public health officials continue to stress that vaccines provide the best protection against the virus.
Since May 15, unvaccinated Idahoans have been hospitalized at 4.5 times the rate of Idahoans who are not fully vaccinated, while the death rate for the unvaccinated is over four times higher, according to state data.
A study led by two professors at the University of Washington in Seattle and published on Thursday found that people who had been vaccinated and boosted, vaccinated after recovering from COVID-19 or those who were infected with COVID-19 after getting vaccinated had “comparable” antibody responses, according to a news release.
The study found their antibody responses were “much more potent and lasting” than the responses generated by unvaccinated people who previously had COVID-19 or by vaccinated people who have not yet received a booster.