IDAHO, USA — March 13, 2020. That's the day Idaho confirmed its first two cases of COVID-19. So, Monday is the third anniversary of COVID-19 officially appearing in the Gem State.
The anniversary falls at a time when the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is reporting a spike in the testing positivity rate and hospitalizations over the last four to six weeks.
For the week of January 15-21 the number of COVID tests coming back positive was 5.1%. Health officials want to keep the rate at 5% or less. However, the rate jumped to 13.7% for the week of February 26 to March 4. That is the latest data available.
For perspective, the highest positivity rate the state had was the week of January 16-22 of 2022 at 37.9%.
Hospitalizations over that same basic time frame have also gone up. On January 21, 73 people were in the hospital with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID. On March 6, the number was 103. Again, for perspective, the highest number of hospital patients with confirmed or suspected COVID Idaho ever saw was 793 on September 24, 2021.
Over the course of the last three years since the pandemic started, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports 521,120 COVID-19 cases. The actual number is likely higher because people are doing so many at-home tests and not reporting data, or they are not testing.
5,416 Idahoans have died of confirmed or probable COVID-related causes since March of 2020. More than 3.2 million COVID tests have been performed, and more than 1.3 million Idahoans have gotten tested.
On this edition of Viewpoint, State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn explained why we are seeing a spike in the positivity rate and hospitalizations.
Below is an excerpt from the interview.
"The variants keep changing, as you mentioned, and we do think there's a variant out there right now, we know it is out there right now because of the testing confirms it, that is a little more contagious than even the last one," Dr. Hahn said. "It's still an omicron, but it's another flavor, and we think we're seeing a little bump because of some of that coming into the state."
Doug Petcash: What are you learning about its potency? Is it stronger or weaker than past ones?
Dr. Hahh: "It appears to be about the same as the other omicrons we've seen coming along. It's not making people sicker necessarily or having different outcomes, but what we are seeing because it's more contagious more people are catching it, and therefore you might see a little bump, and we are, in hospitalizations and things like that. Just more people getting infected with this strain."
Doug Petcash: And is that what makes it concerning with this variant is just how contagious it is?
Dr. Hahn: "Yes. So we know that even people who, for example, if you had omicron an earlier version or even one of the other variants like delta, you still can get re-infected. You can get infected with this. So because it's so catchy we're worried that we're going to see more folks in the hospital with it."
Dr. Hahn also gives a status update on the Flu, RSV and Norovirus seasons in Idaho, as well as discusses a new, highly drug-resistant strain of the Shigella bacteria, a stomach bug.
Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 9 o'clock on KTVB Idaho's NewsChannel 7.
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