TWIN FALLS — The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is on the rise in the Magic Valley and throughout Idaho.
Cases in the Magic Valley steadily decreased from January through mid-June before the region began experiencing an uptick a few weeks ago, said Logan Hudson, public health division administrator for the South Central Public Health District.
“Over the last two to three weeks, we’ve seen almost three times as many cases on average per day as we were seeing in the middle of June,” Hudson said.
The state has experienced a similar increase. All of the key COVID-19 indicators the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare monitors are heading in the wrong direction, department director Dave Jeppesen said in a media briefing Tuesday.
This includes an increase in the state’s seven-day moving average of cases per 100,000 people from 3.3 in early July to 8.2 as of Monday.
Additionally, the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate has increased from 2.8% about a month ago to 4.3%. Meanwhile, the number of long-term care facilities in Idaho with active COVID-19 cases has increased from 14 to 21 over the last few weeks.
Most concerning, Jeppesen said, is the increase in the number of people hospitalized and in the ICU due to the virus. According to the state’s online COVID-19 dashboard, 122 Idahoans were hospitalized on July 16 due to the virus, which is up from less than 70 in mid-June.
Nearly 99% of the people who have been hospitalized or have died from the virus since January were not fully vaccinated, according to information shared at Tuesday’s media briefing.
“This has really become a pandemic for those that are unvaccinated,” Jeppesen said.
This rise in cases coincides with the confirmation of the presence of the COVID-19 Delta variant in Idaho. This variant is more transmissible than the original strain of the virus and its other variants.
The South Central Public Health District announced in a July 15 press release the confirmation of the first case of this variant in Twin Falls County.
While this is the only confirmed case in the region, Hudson said it’s likely the majority of positive cases in the Magic Valley are of this variant. Not all COVID-19 testing providers are equipped to test for this specific variant, so its presence may be difficult to pin down, Hudson said.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a Senate committee Tuesday that the variant accounts for an estimated 83% of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
In addition to the presence of this variant, Hudson attributes the recent uptick in cases to people gathering for the Fourth of July holiday. Hudson anticipates case numbers will continue to increase before dropping and then rising again in the fall, similarly to last year.
“I do think that this is going to be the natural ebb and flow of this thing until it’s either gone through everybody and we have so much immunity in our communities … or people are vaccinated and it really has nowhere to go,” Hudson said.
Due to the number of people vaccinated, when case numbers peak, it likely won’t reach the same heights as last year. For example, the average number of new cases the health district is recording per day is in the 20s. This is down from the 50 to 100 new cases per day the district averaged last July.
While vaccines have proven to be effective in keeping these case numbers down, the Magic Valley and the state of Idaho is lagging behind the national average in vaccination rates.
According to the department of health and welfare’s dashboard, about 45% of Idahoans who are eligible for the vaccine — meaning those who are 12 years and older — are fully vaccinated. Nationwide, nearly 57% of eligible people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated.
The number of vaccine doses the health district administers weekly has slowed dramatically, Hudson said. But health officials continue to hold weekly vaccine clinics at all of the district’s offices in the Magic Valley, while also looking for other ways to offer doses to people who aren’t vaccinated.
Within the past few weeks, the district has created a form available on its website that groups of five or more people can fill out to schedule a visit from the district’s mobile vaccine clinic.
Hudson said it’s up to residents to decide whether or not to get vaccinated, but it’s the health district’s responsibility to make sure people at least have the opportunity to make that decision.
“It’s our job to make sure their excuse can’t be, ‘I never had the chance,’” Hudson said.