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COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations rise rapidly amid another 'surge,' doctors say

Idaho Statesman logo Idaho Statesman 7/24/2021 Ian Max Stevenson, The Idaho Statesman

Jul. 24—Though almost all of Idaho has loosened public health restrictions the past few months, the state of COVID-19 cases suggests that the pandemic may be far from over.

Idaho added 1,369 cases this week, the largest weekly tally since the last week of April. Treasure Valley hospitals, meanwhile, have more than doubled the number of COVID-19 in-patients since the start of July, amid what doctors are calling yet another surge.

After falling to a moving seven-day average of just under 50 new cases per day on July 5, the state is now at more than 195 new cases per day.

"We've lost control; we are in a surge," Dr. Steven Nemerson, chief clinical officer for Saint Alphonsus Health System, said this week.

As of July 21, there were 117 people hospitalized in Idaho with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 and 40 people in an ICU, according to the Department of Health and Welfare.

The pandemic is not treating everyone equally, though. The rise in cases is almost exclusively among unvaccinated people in a state that still lags the national vaccination average.

Over 98% of cases, hospitalizations and deaths since January have been among people who were not fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health and Welfare.

"None of our patients in the intensive care unit that have COVID are vaccinated," Nemerson said on Thursday. "The patients who are at risk of losing their lives, it's because they're not vaccinated."

About 45.4% of Idahoans 12 and older are fully vaccinated, compared to the national rate of 57.2%. In a ranking of states by their vaccination rates, Idaho is close to the bottom.

In another sign that COVID-19 is again ballooning, the percentage of tests taken in the state that came back positive last week rose to 5.7%, the highest it has been since the first week of February. As a general indicator, public health experts say that a percentage over 5% indicates that the spread of cases in a community is not under control.

Though the state's variant surveillance data is limited, state officials believe the current rise is partially tied to the delta variant, which now makes up about 83% of new COVID-19 cases nationwide and is significantly more contagious than the original virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The delta variant is more aggressive and much more transmissible than previously circulating strains," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House press conference this week. "It is one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of, and that I have seen in my 20-year career."

Public health officials and hospital administrators in Idaho continue to plead with residents to get vaccinated and stave off "needless suffering." The three currently authorized vaccines are safe and effective, according to the CDC, and have already been administered to more than 187 million Americans.

Idaho also added 10 new deaths this week. Though two of the individuals who died were in their 80s, according to updated demographic data from Health and Welfare, two were in their 70s, five were in their 60s and one was in their 40s. About 74% of Idahoans older than 65 are fully vaccinated, but the rate is significantly lower for younger age groups.

As of Friday, 11,121 health care workers in Idaho have been infected with COVID-19, 8,972 people have been hospitalized with the disease and 1,510 people have been treated in an ICU, according to state data. There have been 2,183 deaths, 198,225 cases and 116,312 estimated recoveries.

On Thursday, Dr. Jim Souza, the chief physician executive at St. Luke's Health System, said that getting vaccinated remains the best way for Idahoans to protect themselves from the rising case numbers.

"I have three points to make," he said. "Get the vaccine, get the vaccine, get the vaccine."

Long-term care update

As of Friday, Health and Welfare reported that there are 1,285 active COVID-19 cases associated with 24 long-term care facilities, which is higher than last week's 1,038 active cases. There are 296 facilities with resolved outbreaks.

Below is a list of long-term care facilities by city that have active cases of the coronavirus among residents and/or staff. For an outbreak to be considered "resolved," more than 28 days must pass (two incubation periods) without any additional cases associated with the facility.

Boise: State Veterans Home-Boise, Aspen Valley Senior Living, Park Place Assisted Living; Bellevue: Cove of Cascadia; Caldwell: Lenity Senior Living; Chubbuck: Brookdale Chubbuck, Grace at Chubbuck; Coeur d'Alene: Ivy Court, Courtyard at Coeur d'Alene, Lodge at Fairway West, Coeur d'Alene Health and Rehab of Cascadia; Idaho Falls: Yellowstone Group Home #1;

Lewiston: Advanced Health Care of Lewiston; Meridian: Grace Assisted Living-Fairview Lakes, Edgewood Spring Creek Meridian; Montpelier: Bear Lake Manor; Nampa: Grace Assisted Living-Nampa; Pocatello: Gateway Transitional Care Center, Brookdale Pocatello, Monte Vista Hills; Rupert: Countryside Care and Rehab; Silverton: Good Samaritan Society-Silver Wood Village; Twin Falls: Twin Falls Transitional Care of Cascadia, Serenity Transitional Care.

Weekly snapshot

Vaccine doses administered in Idaho: 1,372,357, according to Health and Welfare. Of those, 685,815 people have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for 45.4% of Idahoans age 12 and older.

Test positivity rate: Out of the 14,180 COVID-19 tests conducted for the week of July 11-17, 5.7% came back positive.

Counties with highest current seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 population: Shoshone 35.5, Bear Lake 23.3, Power 20.5, Twin Falls 20.4, Oneida 15.8.

Visit our "what we know" file for a daily look at new cases by county and other key numbers.

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