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Blaine County seeing high vaccination rates as recovery continues in a COVID-19 hot spot

Blaine County saw a very serious situation as COVID-19 spread through the community in 2020. Now, a high percentage of residents are getting the vaccine.

BLAINE COUNTY, Idaho — A year ago, Blaine County, Idaho was still seeing significant challenges as one of the state's COVID-19 hotspots. The medical system faced questions about hospital capacity and treatment options as more and more residents tested positive for the virus.

Dr. Deborah Robertson, an emergency physician with St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, said the COVID-19 situation now compared to last year is drastically different.

“It was really bad, it was scary,” Robertson said. “In my career, my 20-year career in emergency medicine, I have not seen so many extremely sick people as I did a year ago.”

The county's recovery was greatly impacted by the increase in knowledge about the virus, according to Robertson. 

“We were in a rapidly changing medical information environment while we were managing extremely sick people and Blaine County just happened to be on the front end of that, so we were managing these very sick people when we really knew very little,” she said.

A year ago, former KTVB reporter and current Blaine County resident Shannon Camp gave perspective on day-to-day life in an area heavily impacted by COVID-19. Now, things are very different, in a good way.

“For all intents and purposes, life feels like it is on the right track to getting back to normal,” Camp said.

A big part of the recovery is the vaccine rollout, which has seen great success in Blaine County. State data shows that more than 78% of county residents 16 and older have been vaccinated, which is the highest county percentage in Idaho by a solid margin. 

Since the beginning, battling COVID-19 really seemed like a community effort, according to Camp.

“I do feel like it was a community effort. I feel like we all felt like we were in it together," Camp said. "We all had the same goal which was to keep this town afloat economically, but also be able to get out and ski this past winter. That was really important to a lot of people, so I think everybody really pulled their weight in that regard to make sure we are on the right track moving forward."

Robertson said community action on masks also helped the area recover.

“Once we enacted masks and we got ahold of our caseload, our cases went down dramatically. Subsequently, we started seeing cases go up in some of the surrounding areas,” she said.

Things in Blaine County are not entirely back to normal but there is a sense that things are getting better every day. Case counts are drastically down from a year ago and there is a belief that the toughest times have passed.

“It’s a very different feeling and we are just not seeing as much COVID either so that helps with everything as well," Robertson said. "We are back to mountain bike accidents and trampoline accidents and other things that happen to people that are just normal things we see in an emergency department."

Camp said it’s simply a much different mindset now compared to 2020.

“Cautiously optimistic, I think. We still have a mask mandate in place in the county for inside restaurants and indoors but definitely outside it’s starting to feel more like normal,” Camp said.  

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