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Idaho COVID-19 cases continue to grow

Governor Brad Little signs the state emergency proclamation for COVID-19.

Gov. Brad Little signs the state emergency proclamation for COVID-19. Photo by Catie Clark

For a time, Idaho was among just five states without a confirmed case of COVID-19, but that run came to an end on March 13.

Gov. Brad Little announced the state’s first positive test for the disease — a woman in her 50s who lives in Ada County — during a press conference at the Capitol.

There were five confirmed cases in the state by the afternoon of March 15, according to the Idaho Statesman.

On March 13, Little remarked that “we knew at some point that this would happen.”

“There is no change in government recommendations due to this,” he said. “This is a fast-evolving public health event, but we have an incredible team here (at Public Health) that will use the best science to do the right thing.”

Earlier on March 13, the Governor declared a state emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first confirmed case exhibited mild respiratory symptoms after returning from a conference in “late February–early March” in New York City, according to Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator of the Division of Public Health at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The woman with COVID-19 flew home from the conference through Boise Airport and had no symptoms at the time she was traveling. She manifested mild symptoms after arriving home and saw her medical care provider who ruled out influenza.

She was tested for COVID-19 after telling her health care provider that she had visited a city with known community spread of the COVID-19 virus. The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories processed the test sample and confirmed that she was the first known case of COVID-19 in the state on the afternoon of March 13. The woman with COVID-19 is self-isolated at home.

According to Brandon Atkins of the Idaho Public Health Central District, the district is actively tracing people she may have come into contact with, prioritizing those she may have come into close proximity with when she was showing symptoms.

Atkins emphasized that the first COVID-19 case was brought home from the conference in New York and was not contracted through community spread in Idaho.

State of Emergency

Earlier on March 13, before the confirmed case, Little outlined his reasons for declaring an emergency: “I am today signing an emergency declaration that enables us to do a few things. It increases our state’s access to critical supplies such as respirators from the national stockpile. It activates use of Idaho’s emergency operations plan and it makes funds available for use in the emergency disaster fund.

“It allows me as Governor more flexibility to expedite contracts and purchasing the supplies and then allows the expedition and renewal process for nurses who have retired or left the profession to jump in and help response efforts when that is needed. Right now my focus is to make sure Idaho is as prepared as possible and that is why I’m signing this emergency declaration.”

Little outlined guidance for who should seek out a COVID-19 test.

“If someone has a fever or a cough, they should contact their medical provider to find out if they should be tested for coronavirus,” he said. “After ruling out the flu through a rapid flu test, a provider may take a sample from a patient and send it to a lab where the actual coronavirus testing occurs.”

State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn reported that the state’s laboratory had tested 118 and commercial labs had tested 13 more. She also explained that the state lab received equipment that will allow it to double its testing capacity. In addition, four commercial labs now had coronavirus testing capacity and were already delivering test results to Idaho’s public health officials.

Hahn also addressed whether large events and gatherings should be closed or canceled.

“Just yesterday on the coronavirus.idaho.gov website, (we posted) new guidance … that includes recommendations on when to close certain venues. We are not mandating anything at this time … right now, these are recommendations.”

That guidance advises canceling events if:

  • The event will draw audiences or participants from communities, states, or countries with confirmed community spread of COVID-19 disease.
  • The event will be held indoors and bring together more than 250 individuals where social distancing is not possible.
  • The event’s primary audience includes or may expose high-risk populations, including adults over the age of 60 years and people with underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes, regardless of the number of attendees.

Boise, Nampa, Meridian and other Idaho cities have called for the cancellation of large events to protect the public from the spread of coronavirus.

When asked how many people might contract COVID-19 in Idaho, Hahn said “the (epidemiological) models that we’re looking at start at 15% and go up to 35% of people ill.” Based on the most recent population estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau, that translates to between 263,100 and 613,900 people in Idaho contracting the virus.”

When asked whether the state would take measures regarding childcare for working parents in case schools closed, Little did not answer the question directly. He did say that if school districts cancelled classes, it would be better not to put students together in a childcare situation because it would be better if they were spread out.

Sherri Ybarra, Idaho’s superintendent of public instruction, indicated that the State Department of Education was already in discussions with public school districts about measures if schools closed.

Contingencies for both instruction and testing were part of those discussions, as were school meals.

“For students of poverty, often that’s the only time they get a healthy meal, so we have some guidance around how we can do drop off packets and pick up meals and things like that — making sure that life goes on for kids, even in the event that we have a massive closure,” she said.

The emergency declaration also puts into effect Idaho’s anti-price gouging law.

The measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus are developing rapidly across the country.

As of the morning of March 13, five states had zero confirmed cases of COVID-19: Alaska, Alabama, Idaho, Montana and West Virginia.

On the afternoon of March 14, the New York Times reported that coronavirus was confirmed in at least 2,443 people in 49 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. At least 50 patients with the virus have died.

About Catie Clark