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Data backlog obscures true nature of Boise area’s COVID-19 outbreak; 29 new deaths reported

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Posted at 8:28 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 10:31:34-05

This article was originally published by Chadd Cripe and Rachel Roberts.

The data dashboard for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare shows Ada County’s COVID-19 incidence rate as one of the best in the state.

The daily number of new cases reported shows a raging outbreak.

The problem is that Central District Health has been inundated with so many cases that it’s nearly two weeks — and more than 2,500 case reports — behind in its data tracking.

That means many of the 325 new confirmed cases reported Wednesday in Ada County were actually from early December. They are added to IDHW’s data on the day they were originally reported to public health, so they don’t hit the chart showing the county’s cases per day per 100,000 people over the last seven days.

The difference is massive.

IDHW reported that rate at 29.5 on Wednesday.

CDH says the true rate likely was around 85-90 for the weeks ending Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 — placing Ada among the state’s 10 hardest-hit counties per capita.

Of counties with more than 20,000 residents, only Kootenai (94.5) has a rate higher than 90, according to IDHW data.

Several Idaho Statesman readers have emailed reporters about the IDHW chart. One even said his employer was using that number to determine if workers should come to the office.

“Unfortunately, it’s not a real picture of what’s happening today,” Brandon Atkins, a CDH spokesperson, told the Idaho Statesman in a phone interview. “… It’s not going to go down. We know it’s going to go up, so you need to use logical sense. We’re not in a place where we’re comfortable telling anyone there’s a downward trend or that we’re even plateauing.”

CDH has added notes to its data dashboard (updated Mondays and Thursdays) mentioning the data backlog, estimating the most recent case rates and listing the outstanding case reports by day.

The backlog stems from the way Idaho tracks COVID-19 data and the onslaught of cases that overwhelmed CDH beginning in early November. When positive cases are reported to the state, they are directed to the appropriate health district. Those cases aren’t counted until the health district takes some action with the file and saves it.

CDH’s plan of attack is to flag priority cases for immediate investigation — largely those at congregate living facilities, like long-term care, and schools. On Monday, approximately 120 such cases were worked and reported to IDHW with that day’s date, according to CDH.

CDH puts its remaining resources into the backlog. On Tuesday, that meant working on cases from Dec. 3 — 12 days earlier. Hundreds of those cases were reported to IDHW but with the date of the original report.

So while IDHW is adding more than 350 new confirmed cases per day in Ada County, less than half of them actually show up in the seven-day incidence chart. That means the IDHW chart likely won’t show the true incidence rate for this week for another two weeks.

And given the flood of cases that arrive each day — the vast majority in Ada County — it’s uncertain when CDH will catch up.

“In terms of how long it will take, that’s unfortunately a crystal ball question because what is coming in on a given day impacts how many old cases we can get processed,” Christine Myron, a CDH spokesperson, wrote in an email. “We are continuing to increase our staffing and the capacity of what new staff can do, but ultimately, the answer (for way more important reasons than data dashboards) is fewer cases.”

Through Wednesday, the Idaho Statesman was counting 369.6 new confirmed cases per day in Ada County reported over the past seven days. That’s a huge increase from Nov. 1 (127) and Dec. 1 (273.1).

The Idaho Statesman reached out to the state’s other six health districts to see if they were experiencing similar backlogs. Southwest District Health (Caldwell), Southeastern Idaho Public Health (Pocatello), Eastern Idaho Public Health (Idaho Falls) and South Central Public Health District (Twin Falls) said they are current with their case reporting. Panhandle Health District (Coeur d’Alene area) and Idaho North Central District (Lewiston) did not respond.

The state’s other 43 counties — besides Ada — were averaging 518.6 confirmed cases per day on Nov. 1, 629.5 on Dec. 1 and 685 on Wednesday. That’s a slower rise, but still a steady one.

Another wrinkle in trying to determine where Ada County, and Idaho, stand now is an apparent drop in testing around Thanksgiving.

The week of Thanksgiving, PCR testing in Idaho dropped 25%, according to IDHW data. Testing crept back up the following week — how much won’t be clear until Thursday’s weekly testing update — and Idaho’s positivity percentage hit a record 20%.

The trend is similar in Ada County. Testing dropped 17.5% the week of Thanksgiving and the positivity percentage hit a record 19% the next week.

With positivity rates that high and the inability to test everyone, Atkins said, “you can’t get a true picture of what’s happening in a community.”

“We know that it’s happening in such sheer volumes — it’s a rodeo. You can’t rein it all in,” he said.

IDAHO ADDS MORE THAN 1,400 CASES, 29 DEATHS

Idaho’s seven public health districts reported 1,029 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, plus 420 new probable cases for a total of 1,449 new cases.

There also were 29 new coronavirus-related deaths added to the state’s total. Deaths were added in Ada (7 new, 302 total), Bannock (3 new, 51 total), Bonneville (3 new, 98 total), Canyon (8 new, 192 total), Gem (3 new, 15 total), Twin Falls (2 new, 109 total), Bingham (1 new, 35 total), Payette (1 new, 21 total) and Valley (1 new, 2 total) counties.

Idaho has lost 1,248 residents to the virus since the start of the pandemic with a case-fatality rate of about 0.99%.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare updated its hospitalization data on Wednesday. As of Monday, there were 470 patients hospitalized in Idaho with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, including 109 in intensive care.

Three counties combined for 618 of Wednesday’s 1,029 new confirmed cases: Ada (325 new, 28,443 total), Canyon (148 new, 16,525 total) and Kootenai (145 new, 9,587 total).

The other counties adding new confirmed cases were: Adams (3 new, 126 total), Bannock (69 new, 3,427 total), Benewah (5 new, 307 total), Bingham (12 new, 2,146 total), Blaine (3 new, 1,384 total), Bonner (43 new, 1,290 total), Bonneville (64 new, 7,101 total), Boundary (6 new, 216 total), Caribou (1 new, 271 total), Cassia (12 new, 2,162 total), Clearwater (2 new, 591 total), Custer (1 new, 155 total), Elmore (15 new, 864 total), Franklin (5 new, 643 total), Fremont (1 new, 750 total), Gem (7 new, 1,010 total), Gooding (2 new, 806 total), Idaho (4 new, 768 total), Jefferson (5 new, 1,448 total), Jerome (5 new, 1,713 total), Latah (18 new, 1,911 total), Lemhi (1 new, 384 total), Lewis (1 new, 241 total), Lincoln (2 new, 328 total), Madison (36 new, 4,446 total), Minidoka (7 new, 1,685 total), Nez Perce (14 new, 2,557 total), Oneida (1 new, 167 total), Owyhee (2 new, 737 total), Payette (8 new, 1,573 total), Power (7 new, 410 total), Shoshone (19 new, 669 total), Teton (1 new, 451 total), Twin Falls (21 new, 6,086 total), Valley (6 new, 279 total) and Washington (2 new, 706 total).

Idaho has seen 104,950 confirmed cases overall, plus 20,699 probable cases. Health and Welfare estimates that 48,752 of those cases have recovered.

DAILY DETAILS

Vaccine doses administered in Idaho: 119, according to Health and Welfare.

Overall hospitalizations: Health and Welfare reports that there have been 4,965 hospitalizations of people with COVID-19, 908 admissions to the ICU and 6,051 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 Dec. 15, the health system was reporting 113 patients in its hospitals with confirmed COVID-19 out of 374 patients overall. The health system reported a 14-day coronavirus test positivity rate of 15%.

Saint Alphonsus Health System: As of Dec. 15, the health system was reporting 99 patients in its hospitals with confirmed COVID-19 out of 320 patients overall. The health system reported a 14-day coronavirus test positivity rate of 24.7%.

Boise School District: The district says the following schools or units have reported confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff since Dec. 15: Adams Elementary (1), District Services (1), Frank Church High School (1), Hawthorne Elementary (1), Liberty Elementary (1), Whitney Elementary (1), Whittier Elementary (1).

West Ada School District: The district says the following schools or units have reported confirmed COVID-19 cases among students or staff for Dec. 3-16: Centennial High (13), Central Academy (1), Eagle Academy (2), Eagle High (14), Idaho Fine Arts (1), Meridian High (21), Mountain View High (15), Renaissance High (6), Rocky Mountain High (26), Crossroads Middle (1), Eagle Middle (5), Heritage Middle (6), Lake Hazel Middle (5), Lewis and Clark Middle (6), Lowell Scott Middle (4), Meridian Middle (3), Pathways Middle (2), Sawtooth Middle (11), Star Middle (2), Victory Middle (3), Barbara Morgan STEM (5), Chaparral Elementary (1), Chief Joseph School of the Arts (2), Christine Donnell (7), Discovery Elementary (3), Eagle Hills Elementary (6), Eliza Hart Spalding STEM (1), Frontier Elementary (1), Galileo STEM Academy (1), Hunter Elementary (2), Joplin Elementary (1), Lake Hazel Elementary (1), Mary McPherson (2), Meridian Elementary (4), Paramount Elementary (2), Peregrine Elementary (2), Pioneer School of the Arts (1), Pleasant View Elementary (1), Ponderosa Elementary (2), Prospect Elementary (2), River Valley Elementary (3), Siena Elementary (3), Silver Sage Elementary (1), Star Elementary (3), Summerwind STEM Academy (1), Ustick Elementary (1), Willow Creek Elementary (3).

Testing totals: At the end of the day Wednesday, Health and Welfare reported that 514,800 people had been tested statewide. About 20.4% of those have been positive for COVID-19.

Counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases: Ada 28,443, Adams 126, Bannock 3,472, Bear Lake 177, Benewah 307, Bingham 2,146, Blaine 1,384, Boise 158, Bonner 1,290, Bonneville 7,101, Boundary 216, Butte 121, Camas 42, Canyon 16,525, Caribou 271, Cassia 2,162, Clark 44, Clearwater 591, Custer 155, Elmore 864, Franklin 643, Fremont 750, Gem 1,010, Gooding 806, Idaho 768, Jefferson 1,448, Jerome 1,713, Kootenai 9,587, Latah 1,911, Lemhi 384, Lewis 241, Lincoln 328, Madison 4,446, Minidoka 1,685, Nez Perce 2,557, Oneida 167, Owyhee 737, Payette 1,573, Power 410, Shoshone 669, Teton 451, Twin Falls 6,086, Valley 279, Washington 706.