By Ben Olson
There have been nine lab-confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) reported statewide in Idaho as of Wednesday, March 18 at 10 a.m. All confirmed cases have stemmed from the southern part of the state, affecting Ada, Blaine, Madison and Teton Counties. No cases have been reported in central or North Idaho counties.
According to the state website dedicated to tracking the virus — coronavirus.idaho.gov — there have been 343 people tested through the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories and another 125 tested through commercial laboratories. Of the total number tested, 78 people have been reported to have been “monitored by Idaho public health,” which includes past and present, and 43 people “no longer being monitored by public health.” Visit coronavirus.idaho.gov to receive up-to-date information about the spread of coronavirus in Idaho, as these numbers change daily.
A least 8,264 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported throughout the United States, with 147 deaths as of March 18. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have all reported cases. More than 214,552 cases have been reported worldwide, with 8,774 people dying from the disease. Currently, 147 out of 195 countries have reported cases of coronavirus.
Locally, Bonner General Health erected a tent south of its emergency room as a precautionary quarantine measure amid the ongoing spread of coronavirus across the globe.
“The tent is set up for us to be prepared,” said Erin Binall, BGH Community Development manager. “It’s for prevention purposes only. We want our staff to feel comfortable and prepared for any scenario that comes our way.”
Binall confirmed that while there have not been any cases of coronavirus reported in Bonner County, there have been tests taken — none of which have so far returned with positive results.
Binall said BGH has contracted with the Mayo Clinic to offer commercial testing for patients with insurance.
“That may be an option if the state lab decides not to test a patient due to low risk,” Binall said. “Part of this is the fact that the cost of the test is pretty high.”
The hospital implemented a “high-alert” procedure for the emergency department on March 16, which means all patients will be triaged before entering the building to protect staff, patients and visitors.
Gov. Little has hosted numerous press conferences over the past week, in which he has given updates on the coronavirus situation in Idaho.
“The situation with coronavirus is changing hourly, and history will remember our reaction to it,” Little said in a statement released March 17. “Individuals should not hoard groceries and household products. America’s supply chain is the strongest in the world. Grocery stores will stay open and will be continually restocked.”
BGH committees working on the virus are also meeting frequently to help keep ahead of the information curve.
“Right now our incident command is meeting weekly and subcommittees are meeting multiple times a day,” Binall said. “We’re working close with Panhandle Health District and Kootenai Health so everything we’re doing aligns with our regional partners.”
Binall said the situation is “changing daily,” and urges anyone experiencing symptoms to first call ahead to the emergency department at 208-265-1020 to receive instructions about where to get tested and treated.
Meanwhile, Lake Pend Oreille School District schools remain closed until April 5. LPOSD Superintendent Tom Albertson told principals, teachers and stakeholders March 16 that mindful of the “strain on the community,” “we need to do our part with social distancing.”
“It’s going to be a little bumpy,” he said, describing the transition from classroom to online and distance learning.
“Given the times we’re in, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Even on Monday, March 16, Albertson said absenteeism had risen to 1,333 or about 3,800 students district wide — a total of about 27% or, in some schools, between 25% and 35%.
“I don’t see that changing; we’d probably still see a very high absenteeism rate,” he said.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever greater than 101 degrees, lower respiratory illness, a new cough, new shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or travel to an infected area within 14 days. BGH has implemented “soft visitor restrictions” out of an abundance of caution to help mitigate the spread of the disease. The soft visitor restrictions prohibit visitors under the age of 18 to BGH unless they have a scheduled appointment, procedure or need emergency services. Only one visitor is allowed per patient in ICU, medical surgical and surgery departments. Two visitors are allowed for OB patients.
Panhandle Health District Public Information Officer Katherine Hoyer said PHD is following the guidance and messaging that recently came from the White House, urging those in the district to limit social gatherings to fewer than 10 people.
“We’ve also expanded the hours to our call center,” Hoyer said. “We will have someone available from Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and we’ll be open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.”
The dedicated helpline set up by the Panhandle Health District can be reached at 877-415-5225. Those seeking information about coronavirus in Idaho can also visit the new state website coronavirus.idaho.gov for real-time updates on the spread of the virus.
“The most important thing is, if you’re sick, don’t go to work,” Binall said. “And don’t forget to wash your hands.”
Additional reporting by Zach Hagadone.
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