Idaho sees highest COVID positivity rate since pandemic began

Free at-home tests now available for each U.S. household through easy online ordering system

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

The past week proved to be a dire one for Idaho COVID-19 statistics, as the omicron variant caused a surge in positive cases unmatched during any other time during the nearly two-year pandemic.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen told reporters at a media briefing Jan. 18 that the Gem State is currently logging a 25.7% testing positivity rate — the highest since the novel coronavirus hit the state in spring 2020, and more than five times the target rate of 5% or lower.

What’s more, the Idaho Capital Sun reported that, with backlogged positive tests factored in, Idaho is seeing a per capita rate of 197 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population, excluding “unreported cases, such as people who test positive using home rapid tests or who choose not to get tested.”

The increasing rate of infection is being felt statewide through shortages of both health care personnel and school staff, pushing some regions to consider once again rationing care and moving to remote schooling. Despite discussions of reclassifying the coronavirus pandemic as an endemic — that is, a virus with which the world coexists and maintains at a baseline level — Idaho health officials came out firmly against the concept on Jan. 18. 

Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator for the state’s division of public health, stated: “While we all very much want this to be over, get back to some sense of normality, public health officials do not feel that we have transitioned from calling this a pandemic to an endemic. We have too many people worldwide that still don’t have protection from the virus.”

That protection could come either naturally or from a COVID-19 vaccine — a measure that officials continue to recommend. According to the Idaho Capital Sun, “hundreds of people in the state” receive their first dose each day. Still, the state maintains one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“The number of people getting sick continues to rise, which is not something that you would see from endemic viruses,” Shaw-Tulloch said, as reported in the Idaho Press.

An effort to put testing tools into the hands of all Americans is officially underway as of Jan. 18, as the Biden administration officially launched — a website where anyone can order four free at-home COVID tests for their household by providing their name and mailing address. The tests will be shipped at no charge between seven and 12 days after ordering. The tests being provided are rapid antigen tests, which don’t require lab analysis and provide results in about 30 minutes.

Learn more about the free tests and access the order form at For more local COVID-19 information, including how to obtain a vaccine, visit The Panhandle Health District’s COVID-19 hotline, 877-415-5225, is available Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4 p.m., excluding holidays.

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