By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
The disruption to Idaho caused by the novel coronavirus is taking on a familiar pattern, as the omicron variant of COVID-19 propels statewide trends upward, putting renewed strain on health care capacity and the state’s own ability to track the overwhelming number of new cases.
The Associated Press reported Jan. 11 that, according to Idaho Deputy State Epidemiologist Kathryn Turner, there is a backlog of positive COVID-19 tests around Idaho due to the sheer number coming in need of processing. As a result, Idaho’s COVID-19 tracker “shows an average of about 48 new cases for every 100,000 people each day over the past week.”
“The actual numbers are closer to 135 new cases a day for every 100,000 residents,” the AP reported.
While the omicron variant is proving to be less debilitating than past variants, it is proving more contagious. Boise-based KTVB-7 TV reported Jan. 11 that “the percent of positive COVID tests has doubled in the last month from 8.6% in December to 17.1% in January.”
The strain caused by increased cases is also making itself felt closer to home. Panhandle Health District stated in a media release Jan. 12 that the district has seen a “sharp increase in the daily COVID-19 case count” over the past three weeks.
“These unprecedented numbers are likely due to the district’s low vaccination rate and other effective precautions not being taken by the community,” PHD officials said. “According to the CDC’s genomic surveillance site, the highly transmissible omicron variant represents over 95% of the current case count in the Northwest region of the U.S., representing Idaho, Alaska, Oregon and Washington.”
According to PHD, as of Jan. 12, “800 community members have lost their lives to the virus and over 2,700 have been hospitalized.”
“We realize that the community is tired, and we all wished the delta wave would have been the final surge, but omicron is proving to spread even faster than the delta variant,” said PHD Director Don Duffy.
“Right now, while cases are surging and the level of disease spread in our communities is high, I urge everyone to protect themselves and others,” he added. “As we head into our third year of responding to this pandemic, we ask the community to continue to be vigilant in practicing precautions to prevent the spread of this virus and get vaccinated.”
Aside from vaccination, other recommended measures include masking in public areas, hand washing, social distancing, staying home when sick and seeking out testing.
PHD also shared in a social media post Jan. 10 that its COVID-19 hotline should not be used to find out about virus restrictions at travel destinations.
“Before calling PHD’s COVID hotline with questions regarding travel, please check with your destination’s COVID-19 restrictions and requirements,” officials stated. “Our call operators do not know every destination’s COVID restrictions and they are unable to research that information for each caller. With the increase in demand for testing, we will prioritize our test order referrals for those experiencing symptoms or who have been recently exposed to COVID.
“If calling for test orders for travel please anticipate 24-48 hours for us to process your request,” the statement continued. “Thank you for understanding.”
Access the health district’s COVID-19 hotline for non-travel related questions at 877-415-5225. The hotline is available Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4 p.m., excluding holidays. Learn more about coronavirus in North Idaho, including where to access vaccines, at panhandlehealthdistrict.org.
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