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North Idaho Covid cases continue to rise, but not to the magnitude of earlier waves

PHD Hayden.jpg
Panhandle Health District
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The Panhandle Health District office in Hayden, Idaho (FILE PHOTO)

A rise in coronavirus cases in Idaho that began in early May continues this month. While the virus has largely faded from front pages, Panhandle health officials say Covid is still very present, and serious.

Cases in north Idaho have been rising, though not to the levels seen during the delta and omicron surges. Evidence from hospitalizations and deaths indicates the severity of the current BA.5 strain may not be as bad as those previous variants. Panhandle Health District director Don Duffy says that is a good thing.

“We’re working between 11 to 20 hospital admissions due to Covid in north Idaho,” Duffy said. “Now, that [at] one time was well over 100 to 150 cases. It’s still too early to tell, but there are signs this isn’t quite as severe. When I mean severe, I mean hospitalized or, of course, death.”

In similar fashion, Idaho’s coronavirus death rate has slowed compared to previous waves. The state is closing in on five-thousand deaths from the virus, though state health officials acknowledge that may be an undercount because some deaths might have been attributed to other causes.

The current test positivity rate in the five-county Panhandle region was nearly 25 percent as of July 9, a higher level than Idaho’s six other public health districts. Duffy says there are a few likely factors.

“One, we have the lowest vaccination rate of the other counties here in Idaho, and that’s certainly a concern,” Duffy said. “And also we get a lot of travel coming though north Idaho. We are measuring wastewater, and we saw a spike in that wastewater over the Fourth of July.”

Duffy and Panhandle Health District epidemiologist Jeff Weigel also point to the ease with which the current variant spreads from person to person. Weigel says he thinks the current rise hasn’t peaked yet. And there will probably other mini-surges later this year.

“When people come back inside in the fall – school picks up, cold weather comes, everybody’s come back inside – cases will likely pick up again. The question is whether it’ll be this variant or a different one,” Weigel said.

Weigel said patterns so far indicate that succeeding variants are less severe than their predecessors – a pattern that can be strengthened if more Panhandle residents get vaccinated, observe physical distancing and wear masks.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.