No coronavirus cases in Idaho, but officials say it’s coming

Posted at 1:13 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-05 15:51:17-05

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — There are no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Idaho but 35 people are being monitored, most of them travelers returning from China, state officials said Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Brad Little told reporters that the state’s main public health focus is to slow the spread of the virus once it appears so that the state’s healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed.

He said Idaho residents can help by taking basic precautions such as washing hands and staying home when sick.

“It’s even more important now with this issue right on our doorstep,” he said, referring to the new coronavirus outbreak in neighboring Washington state.

Idaho officials said six people have tested negative for the virus that causes the disease called COVID-19, but the state only has about 300 test kits at the moment. Another 500 are expected by the end of the week.

“Our testing capacity is limited,” said Christine Hahn, Idaho’s state epidemiologist. “We just don’t have that many test kits. We have been assured that more test kits are on the way.”

She said only the most severely ill have been tested so far.

Little said he’s talked to lawmakers to free up money to respond to an outbreak if needed and that the amount would be in the millions of dollars.

Little also formed a working group made up of state officials to deal specifically with the virus and they met for the first time Wednesday morning.

The superintendent of public instruction, Sherri Ybarra, is a member and said schools have received instructions on how to respond if the virus emerges in Idaho.

“We’re getting ready and prepared for anything that might affect our schools,” she said.

The state has also set up a website with virus information and how the state is responding, which states how many people have been tested and how many are being monitored.

Hahn said she’s expecting confirmed cases to be identified in Idaho.

“We know that we can’t stop it at this point,” she said. “What we can do is slow the virus down. We can reduce the impact and burden on the healthcare system.”

She said there is still much to learn about the virus, but that it appears to be about 10 times deadlier than the flu in killing those who are infected. Young people, she said, appear to be less affected by the virus.

Hahn said it’s possible the virus, like the flu, could wane with the coming of warmer weather, but that wasn’t certain. If that turns out to be accurate, the state could buy time before a vaccine is developed by reducing those infected until warmer weather arrives.

It will probably take more than a year to create a vaccine, Hahn said.