The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) announced in a media briefing Tuesday the delta variant is the dominant version of COVID-19 in Idaho.
Gov. Brad Little joined the briefing to give introductory remarks. Little said variants are spreading in Idaho and the state is seeing more COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
From May through June, alpha was the most common variant in Idaho. In July, most of the sequences returned as the delta variant.
Dr. Kathryn Turner, the deputy state epidemiologist, says people with the delta variant will infect five to nine people on average. People with the original strain of COVID-19 would only infect 2.5 other people on average.
"Increased transmissibility poses an exponential threat. Even if the transmissibility went from say three people on average to just four people on average over ten generations of transmission you would have half a million additional infections which is a quarter of Idaho's population," Turner said.
Another concerning aspect of the delta variant, she said, is the viral load.
"Scientists have looked at how much virus people have in their nose and throat when they are infected and it appears that those who are infected with the delta variant tend to have more virus and that it is detectable much earlier after exposure," Turner said.
Central District Health (CDH) also announced Tuesday two Valley County residents were recently infected with the Delta variant. One was infected in June and the other in July.
CDH reports the people do not know each other and live in different communities in Valley County.
“It’s important for people to realize that this new and highly transmissible variant is showing up in our more rural communities too. Many Idahoans regularly travel across county lines in a given week, and we need to remember that a threat like the Delta variant is very real even when we travel to the mountains to recreate and play,” said Lindsay Haskell, communicable disease control manager for Central District Health (CDH).
There has also been an increase in vaccinations in Idaho. According to the Idaho Division of Public Health, the number of vaccines administered increased from 11,000 the week of July 11 to 15,000 the week of July 25.
Sarah Leeds said there are a lot of communication and education efforts happening to try to encourage vaccination, making it difficult to determine what is driving the increase, but the delta variant could be a factor.
Health Officials also addressed the change in CDC guidelines Tuesday, which recommends everyone, vaccinated or not, wear masks inside in areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates.
She referenced an outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts which involved a large percentage of fully vaccinated individuals.
Turner said it's not uncommon for breakthrough infections with any vaccine, but the takeaway from this outbreak is that there were no deaths and the only hospitalizations have been people with underlying conditions that would have put them at a higher risk whether they were vaccinated or not.
With kids heading back to school soon, IDHW says it has convened a back-to-school task force to help provide guidance. The Boise School District is holding a special board meeting Tuesday night at 6 p.m. on its pandemic plan.
Little also discussed the upcoming school year in his remarks.
"With the new school year upon us, we should renew our commitment to our students. Simply put, we need more Idahoans to choose to receive the vaccine if our kids have a chance at a normal school year. One that is entirely in-person without outbreaks and quarantines," he said.
Case rates among kids ages 0-12 increased 200% in the last two weeks, Turner said. The increase in ages 13-17 isn't as steep.
Cases in kids age 0-4 increased from 16 per 100,000 to 50 per 100,000 over the course of two weeks, Turner said.