By Lyndsie Kiebert
Aggressive community transmission and rapidly rising active case counts continue to plague Idaho as it navigates the novel coronavirus pandemic with an emphasis on local enactment and enforcement of health mandates, which remain largely opposed across the state.
On Nov. 4, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported 1,290 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 and 664 virus-related deaths — 17 new — to date. In total, Idaho has seen 68,314 cases since counting began in March.
The Panhandle Health District, which manages case counts for the five most northern counties in Idaho, reported a total of 558 cases in Bonner County on Nov. 4, 138 of which are active. As of that same date, 79 north Idahoans had died of novel coronavirus, including two Bonner County residents.
In response to the consistently rising numbers, Governor Brad Little moved the state back to Stage 3 of his reopening plan. While Stage 3 does not result in the closure of any businesses, the governor reinstated guidelines meant to limit crowd size. At a Sandpoint City Council meeting Nov. 4, City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton shared how those occupancy restrictions will affect War Memorial Field as the Sandpoint High School football team competes in the 5A state playoffs on its home field Friday night. She said that anywhere that there is a stated occupancy level in an indoor area, “we are limited … at our facilities [to] 25% of our stated occupancy level.”
At War Memorial Field — which seats 1,400 people, not including greenspace — Stapleton said that means 320 people in the grandstands, and 50 in the visitor area. Additionally, the Lake Pend Oreille School District came up with a plan for additional sideline occupancy space. All plans for managing crowd size at Sandpoint football games have been submitted to the Panhandle Health District for approval, Stapleton said.
As case counts in the region continue to climb, PHD released detailed guidelines for effective isolation and quarantine should a person find out they have the virus or have been in close contact with someone who tested positive.
Officials shared that the increased cases are an indication that the area is experiencing significant community transmission.
“This is a time when we all need to do our part,” said PHD Director Lora Whalen. “One simple way each of us can contribute to stopping the spread of this virus is to stay home when you are sick. It may be tempting to end your recommended isolation time early if you are feeling better, but we urge you to complete the full isolation period.”
PHD referenced CDC guidelines, which state that individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, as well as those who have had close contact with someone who tested positive, need to quarantine. PHD defines close contact as “within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24 hour period starting from two days before the individual experienced symptoms or two days before they tested positive.” Those who have had close contact need to quarantine for 14 days after their last contact with the person who has COVID-19, officials said.
Those who test positive for COVID-19 follow a different protocol: a 10-day isolation period “beginning on the day they tested positive, or the day their symptoms began,” PHD officials shared, adding, “on top of the 10 days of isolation, they should also be fever free for at least 24 hours and their other symptoms should be improving.”
PHD Epidemiology Program Manager Jeff Lee said he is often asked why those who were in close contact require a longer isolation than those who test positive.
“Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus, so someone who is already exhibiting symptoms is likely days ahead in their infectious period than the person who was just exposed,” he said. “Based on studies of those who have become infected with COVID-19, a person can remain infectious up to 10 days after their symptoms started. Those who had close contact with a confirmed positive individual will take a few days to develop symptoms, so their isolation is slightly longer.”
“There are instances where an individual is quarantining due to close contact and they had additional close contact with someone who has COVID-19 within their household,” Lee added. “This extends the quarantine period because any time a new household member gets sick with COVID-19 and you had close contact, you will need to restart your isolation after the household member with COVID-19 infection has completed their isolation period. You can avoid this by having all household members practice social distancing and proper mask usage within the home during the infected person’s isolation period.”
Those with questions about COVID-19 in North Idaho can call the PHD hotline Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., at 877-415-5225.
Additional reporting by Zach Hagadone.
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