Idaho’s COVID-19 week: Positivity improvement, but thousands of cases, 152 deaths

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Signs that Idaho’s delta surge has crested increased this week, with continued declines in overall hospitalizations and intensive care patients, as well as in the state’s test positivity rate.

The state’s seven-day moving average of new cases has also declined, although a backlog since the start of October has been skewing daily tallies. As of Friday, there remained around 2,200 outstanding cases in that backlog. At a press conference on Tuesday, deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner said most of the unlogged cases occurred in the prior 7-10 days.

Since Oct. 15, the state has reported 8,198 new cases, with 1,480 of them coming on Friday.

The state’s test positivity rate — a measure of how many COVID-19 tests conducted in the state come back positive — declined for the fifth straight week, to 12% the week of Oct. 10, which is the most recent data available. The week of Sept. 5, it was 17.3%. It is still well above the 5% figure considered the benchmark for showing control of virus spread.

As of Friday, the state has tested more than 1 million people for COVID-19 — 1,000,334, to be precise.

And in long-term care facilities, outbreaks have declined as well. On Friday, there were 6,357 active cases at 129 facilities, which is down from 6,976 the week before.

At Idaho hospitals, the number of COVID-19 patients has dropped since the third full week of September. On Tuesday, health officials said the state had “likely” turned a corner in that regard.

Hospitals are still operating under crisis standards of care, though, and the hospital numbers are higher than they were during the surge last fall, before there were vaccines available.

At St. Luke’s Health System, hospitals are operating at around 130% capacity, housing patients in non-standard areas and forgoing all surgeries that are not emergencies.

“We are starting to turn the corner from less admissions and clearing out the hospital a little bit,” Dr. Joshua Kern, chief medical officer for St. Luke’s hospitals in the Magic Valley, Wood River Valley and Jerome, told the Idaho Statesman on Friday. But he said hospitals were “still struggling.”

As of Wednesday, there were 573 patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in Idaho hospitals, including 161 ICU patients, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s dashboard. There were nine pediatric patients.

Over the past week, the state added 152 COVID-19 deaths, with 77 of them being people younger than 70, according to updated demographic data.

Since the start of the pandemic, the state has recorded 12,326 COVID-19 infections in health care workers, 12,402 hospitalizations and 2,069 intensive care patients.

Booster shots

Also this week, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention expanded its recommendation of booster shots for millions of eligible Americans after the additional shots were authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

Recipients of the two mRNA vaccines — Moderna and Pfizer — are eligible for a booster if they are 65 years or older, live in a long-term care facility, are between 50 and 65 and have an underlying medical condition, are between 18 and 49 and have an underlying medical condition “based on individual benefit and risk,” or are between the ages of 18 and 64 but have an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to their work environment, according to Health and Welfare.

The third doses should be administered six months after the second dose.

For recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — which is only one shot — a booster dose is recommended for all recipients 18 years or older two months after their initial shot.

The extra doses are intended to give vulnerable Americans a “boost” of antibody levels after their initial vaccination, in case the vaccine’s protections have started to wane.

The FDA also has authorized a “mix and match” approach, meaning that those who were vaccinated with one company’s vaccine may get a booster shot from a different company.

In a Thursday release, the CDC emphasized that people who have received two doses of the mRNA vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are still considered to be fully vaccinated, and that those vaccines continue to be highly effective against severe illness and death.

Idaho residents can find information about where vaccines are offered, including which brands are available at different locations, at vaccines.gov. State data shows that 74,645 people have received either a booster dose or a third dose, which are authorized for people with compromised immune systems sooner than the booster doses.

Long-term care update

As of Friday, Health and Welfare reports that there are 6,357 active coronavirus cases among 129 facilities. There are 216 facilities with resolved outbreaks.

To date, 895 people from 200 facilities in Idaho have died from COVID-19-related causes — 17 more than were reported last Friday. Long-term care deaths account for about 26% of the 3,403 deaths in the state.

The most recent data from Health and Welfare show that 79% of Idahoans age 65 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Below is a list of Idaho cities along with the number of facilities in each city that have active cases 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.

American Falls (2), Bannock (1), Bellevue (1), Blackfoot (3), Boise (26), Bonners Ferry (1), Buhl (1), Burley (2), Caldwell (3), Chubbuck (1), Coeur d’Alene (9), Eagle (2), Emmett (1), Fruitland (1), Garden City (1), Grangeville (1), Hayden (1), Idaho Falls (5), Kuna (2), Lava Hot Springs (1), Lewiston (7), Malad (2), McCall (1), Meridian (13), Middleton (1), Montpelier (1), Moscow (1), Mountain Home (1), Nampa (7), Orofino (1), Parma (1), Payette (1), Pinehurst (1), Pocatello (8), Post Falls (3), Rathdrum (1), Rexburg (2), Rupert (1), Salmon (1), Sandpoint (3), St. Maries (1), Star (1), Twin Falls (6).

Visit coronavirus.idaho.gov for a complete list of long-term facilities with active cases this week.

WEEKLY SNAPSHOT

Vaccine doses administered in Idaho: 1,656,961, according to Health and Welfare. Of those, 819,443 people have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for 54.3% of Idahoans age 12 and older.

Test positivity rate: Out of the 34,219 COVID-19 tests conducted for the week of Oct. 10-16, 12% came back positive.

For a full list of daily numbers on a county-by-county basis, visit our “What We Know” story.

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