As delta spreads, Idaho’s COVID-19 cases are ‘headed the wrong direction’

Meanwhile, vaccination rates have slowed, leaving Idahoans vulnerable to infection

By: - July 20, 2021 5:51 pm
Coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccine

Federal regulators have authorized multiple vaccines for emergency use in the prevention of COVID-19, a disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. (Courtesy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration)

Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen began the state’s latest COVID-19 media briefing with some bad news: After several weeks of improvement, all of Idaho’s coronavirus indicators are “now headed the wrong direction,” he said.

“These trends are very concerning, particularly as we look forward to the fall, with the return of the flu season and people returning to more indoor activities,” he noted. Fall also is when children, a largely unvaccinated population, will return to school.

What trends are concerning, according to Jeppesen?

  • The statewide average case rate more than doubled in two weeks, going from a low of 3.3 per 100,000 on July 5, to 8.2 per 100,000 on July 19.
  • The percent of COVID-19 tests coming back positive has risen from 2.8% a month ago to 4.3% now.
  • Idaho recorded a 50% increase in long-term care facilities with active cases during the past few weeks.
  • The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has grown since July 1, with ICU hospitalizations doubling since early July.

“The vast, vast majority of people coming down with COVID-19 or being admitted to the hospital during COVID-19 are unvaccinated,” he said. “This has really become a pandemic for those that are unvaccinated.”

State public health officials have said that the vast majority of fully vaccinated Idahoans who do contract the coronavirus never have symptoms, or have very mild symptoms similar to a cold or allergies.

But Idaho has among the lowest rates of coronavirus vaccination in the U.S. About 40.4% of Idaho’s total population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with a 56.2% national average.

That has left more than half the state vulnerable to the highly infectious delta variant. The variant may spread more easily because it can rapidly and efficiently infect human cells, reproducing at 1,000 times the rate as the original coronavirus did, one recent study said.

Idaho State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said Tuesday that Idaho has now identified 26 more cases of people infected with the delta variant, in addition to the nine already identified in Ada, Canyon, Gem and Twin Falls counties.

That’s an undercount, as only some COVID-19 test samples can be tested to see if they’re variants of concern. The state is working on sequencing more samples to better monitor the spread of variants, officials said.

“What we’re starting to see is what we have been expecting, which is that we are starting to see delta coming into our state in greater numbers and greater proportions,” Hahn said. “We’ve been discouraged that some people have interpreted our low numbers as thinking we don’t really have that variant here, or not very much of it. (But that is due to) a limitation of our testing capabilities, and we are going to start to see more. So we’re hoping that Idahoans understand this as a warning that we do have delta here, we do have the numbers increasing, and we urge you … to go ahead and consider vaccination now.”

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Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton, senior investigative reporter, joined the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman. Her favorite topics to cover include health care, business, consumer protection issues and white collar crime. Dutton hails from Twin Falls. She attended college at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York City. Before coming home to Idaho, Dutton worked as a journalist in Minnesota, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Dutton's work has earned dozens of state, regional and national awards for investigative reporting, health care and business reporting, data visualization and more.