TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The South Central Public Health District released its bi-weekly risk assessment for the Magic Valley last week, revealing six of the eight counties in its jurisdiction are at the critical risk level.
Health officials have been anticipating another surge in cases this past month, and levels are at the highest they've been since winter.
“The last time we saw a majority of our counties in red was back in January, I believe, so it’s been more than six months," said Brianna Bodily, the spokesperson for the South Central Public Health District. "Obviously, we were coming off of a huge surge in cases. Now we’re on the opposite end. We’re right back at the very beginning of another surge in cases.”
Blaine, Cassia, and Minidoka Counties are at the critical risk level, along with Gooding, Jerome, and Twin Falls Counties where COVID cases are on the rise. Camas and Lincoln are at the high-risk level.
Gooding's positivity rate is 17.07% with an average of 3.95 new cases per 10,000 people over a 14-day rolling average. Jerome reports a positivity rate of 13.66% and an average of 4.54 new cases per 10,000 residents. In Twin Falls County, the positivity rate is 12.95%, averaging 5.73 new cases per 10,000 people.
Officials are seeing a spread in COVID-19 cases in a variety of communal living areas.
“We’re seeing more outbreaks right now in areas like long-term care facilities, jails, likely we’re going to see them in dorms very soon, anywhere where people are living close to each other, especially by Idaho standards since we’re such a rural community,” said Bodily.
The health district is also beginning to see some spread in schools and in people attending a small gathering where someone is infected, then bringing it to their home and transmitting it to family members.
The other reason why risk levels are so high is that even in areas where positivity rates and new case counts are lower, hospital capacity is proving to be an issue.
“All of our hospitals are reporting consistent and continued serious and critical impact right now," said Bodily. "Part of that is COVID-19. Part of that is just regular stresses we see this time of year on hospital systems.”
The health district is continuing efforts in community education and encouraging health protocols like social distancing, mask-wearing, and vaccinations to mitigate spread.
Despite these efforts, officials are worried about the fall and winter if people choose not to follow precautions.
“There are definitely things that put us at greater risk," said Bodily. "Of course, another really big one is simply, that people start congregating indoors when it gets cold. So, as we look forward into the future, unfortunately, most indicators at this point lead us to believe this surge is going to get worse and worse for several weeks.”