Two Idaho health districts ended measures related to COVID-19 on Thursday as officials confirmed that variants of the original virus had spread to another area of the state.
The board of Southwest District Health, which covers six counties, including Canyon, voted to end the district’s health alert level system, which assigned a color, risk level and health recommendations to each county depending on the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak there. In recent weeks, several of the counties had been lowered to a “gray” level, indicating they were at minimal severity.
Southwest District Health officials said COVID-19 metrics, such as infection rates, would continue to be publicly available without the color-coded risk levels and accompanying safety recommendations.
Also on Thursday, the health board of the Panhandle district voted to end a mask mandate that was implemented in January. The Coeur d’Alene Press reported that board member Allen Banks asked members to “rescind this silly mask mandate and let our people get back to normal lives,” while the board’s two health care professionals cautioned against lifting precautions.
Earlier in the day, the Panhandle Health District announced that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare had confirmed a case of a coronavirus variant in the district. The B.1.427 variant, first identified in California, is more contagious than the original virus and can cause more severe illness and resist some treatments that have been found effective against the original virus, according to the CDC.
Several coronavirus variants have been found through genome sequencing in different parts of the state, including in Boise-based Central District Health. The Department of Health and Welfare has sequenced 433 samples from Idahoans and found that 10% of those were variant viruses.
Health and Welfare reported 343 new COVID-19 cases statewide on Thursday, keeping the statewide seven-day moving average under 300 cases per day after a recent spike.
The agency also reported that the state’s test positivity rate — the percentage of total tests that are positive for COVID-19 — had declined slightly. Last week, the test positivity rate rose for the first time in months, exceeding the 5% benchmark that experts say signals a community has infections under control. On Thursday, Idaho’s test positivity rate was 5.1%.
Two more Idahoans have died of COVID-19, data showed. Ada County and Madison County recorded one new death each, raising their respective death tolls to 448 and 23. To date, 1,954 Idahoans have died of COVID-19-related causes.
Health and Welfare has reported 178,887 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 since last March, with nearly 100,000 people considered “recovered” from the virus.
The following Idaho counties reported new cases on Thursday: Ada (85 new, 48,691 total), Bannock (26 new, 8,315 total), Bear Lake (2 new, 367 total), Bingham (10 new, 4,610 total), Blaine (1 new, 2,235 total), Boise (1 new, 319 total), Bonner (1 new, 3,081 total), Bonneville (54 new, 13,807 total), Boundary (1 new, 841 total), Canyon (47 new, 25,406 total), Caribou (5 new, 643 total), Cassia (2 new, 2,891 total), Clearwater (6 new, 1,027 total), Elmore (7 new, 1,734 total), Franklin (1 new, 1,112 total), Fremont (1 new, 1,075 total), Gem (4 new, 1,727 total), Jefferson (25 new, 2,750 total), Jerome (2 new, 2,533 total), Kootenai (19 new, 17,117 total), Latah (4 new, 2,899 total), Madison (15 new, 6,774 total), Minidoka (1 new, 2,307 total), Nez Perce (1 new, 3,466 total), Oneida (5 new, 343 total), Owyhee (2 new, 1,033 total), Payette (2 new, 2,438 total), Teton (5 new, 1,142 total), Twin Falls (7 new, 9,116 total) and Washington (1 new, 1,196 total).
Vaccine doses administered in Idaho: 647,173, according to Health and Welfare. Of those, 252,665 people have been fully vaccinated.
Overall hospitalizations: Health and Welfare reports that there have been 7,506 hospitalizations of people with COVID-19, 1,286 admissions to the ICU and 9,942 health care workers infected. Hospital and health care numbers are based on cases with completed investigations into contacts, not the full number of positives.
St. Luke’s Health System: As of March 24, the health system was reporting 32 patients in its hospitals with confirmed COVID-19 out of 490 patients overall. The health system reported a 14-day coronavirus test positivity rate of 4%.
Saint Alphonsus Health System: As of March 24, the health system was reporting 18 patients in its hospitals with confirmed COVID-19 out of 348 patients overall. The health system reported a 14-day coronavirus test positivity rate of 8.6%.
Boise School District: Reported confirmed cases since March 16: Borah High (2), North Jr. High (2), Owyhee Elementary (1), Valley View Elementary (1), Whittier Elementary (1).
West Ada School District: Reported confirmed cases for March 11-24: Eagle High (5), Meridian High (2), Rocky Mountain High (1), Eagle Middle (3), Lake Hazel Middle (1), Meridian Middle (1), Star Middle (1), Victory Middle (1), Barbara Morgan STEM Academy (1), Eagle Hills Elementary (1), Hillsdale Elementary (2), Ponderosa Elementary (2), Siena Elementary (4).
Total COVID-19 cases by county (confirmed + probable): Ada 48,691, Adams 333, Bannock 8,315, Bear Lake 367, Benewah 645, Bingham 4,610, Blaine 2,235, Boise 319, Bonner 3,081, Bonneville 13,807, Boundary 841, Butte 202, Camas 71, Canyon 25,406, Caribou 643, Cassia 2,891, Clark 56, Clearwater 1,027, Custer 239, Elmore 1,734, Franklin 1,112, Fremont 1,075, Gem 1,727, Gooding 1,279, Idaho 1,171, Jefferson 2,750, Jerome 2,533, Kootenai 17,117, Latah 2,899, Lemhi 516, Lewis 383, Lincoln 491, Madison 6,774, Minidoka 2,307, Nez Perce 3,466, Oneida 343, Owyhee 1,033, Payette 2,438, Power 644, Shoshone 1,043, Teton 1,142, Twin Falls 9,116, Valley 819, Washington 1,196.