TWIN FALLS — COVID-19 cases are increasing throughout Idaho, and the Magic Valley is no exception.
Twin Falls County has the third highest seven-day moving average of new cases per 100,000 people of all counties in the state.
According to data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, the county has a seven-day average of 44.1 new cases per 100,000 people. Only Nez Perce and Shoshone counties have higher averages of 56.9 and 44.4, respectively.
The county’s average is well below its peak of 126.3 cases last November. But the existing average is a significant increase from the county’s situation just a few months ago.
The county’s seven-day moving average of new cases per 100,000 people remained below seven throughout all of June, and reached a low of three on June 24. This number began ticking up at the start of July and has continued to steadily increase.
And it’s not just raw case totals that are increasing. The number of people in the hospital or in intensive care units because of the virus has increased throughout the state over the last month.
On July 1, there were 97 people in hospitals and 22 in the ICU because of the virus throughout Idaho. Those numbers increased to 184 and 65, respectively, on Aug. 2, according to state data.
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In a Tuesday media briefing, Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said this increase is partially the result of delta variant spreading in Idaho.
This variant, which now makes up for the vast majority of all cases in the state, is at least twice as transmissible as previous virus variants.
“That’s really the underlying driver of why our coronavirus metrics have really gone the wrong way the last several weeks,” Jeppesen said.
The spread of this variant throughout the U.S. led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue new guidance in recent weeks advising people to wear masks indoors in counties with “substantial” or “high” levels of COVID-19 transmission. According to a CDC map showing county transmission levels, the federal agency recommends people wear masks indoors in nearly every county in Idaho.
The increase is concerning to public health officials, especially as it’s happening shortly before the school year starts.
With a highly infectious Delta variant circulating in Idaho, and with cases and hospitalizations climbing, more Idahoans are choosing to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Welfare, said the state has seen an increase in COVID-19 infections among kids younger than 11 years old in recent weeks. This trend could continue into the school year as the COVID-19 vaccines are only approved from people 12 years and older
“It’s really incumbent upon the adults in their lives and older teens to be vaccinated to sort of cocoon these kids away from the risk of becoming infected,” Turner said during Tuesday’s media briefing.
Gov. Brad Little also joined the briefing to speak about the importance of getting vaccinated before the start of the school year.
“Simply put, we need more Idahoans to choose to receive the vaccine if our kids have a chance at a normal school year,” Little said.
About 50.5% of the state’s population that is eligible for the vaccine has received at least one dose. This number is far below the national average of 67.9%.
Most counties in the Magic Valley, with the exception of Blaine County, where 72% of the eligible population is vaccinated, are below the state’s vaccination average.
After Blaine, Twin Falls County has the highest rate with 40% of eligible people vaccinated. The other six counties in the region have vaccination rates of 36% and below.
These percentages could increase as the number of people choosing to get vaccinated has risen in recent weeks. This is good news, Jeppesen said, as vaccinations are the only way to end the pandemic.
While some vaccinated people will still catch the virus — the state has recorded 1,154 breakthrough cases, according to its data dashboard — they are a lot less likely to become sick and need hospitalized. Data released from the state health department last month showed nearly 99% of all COVID-19 hospitalizations since January were people unvaccinated.