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Eastern Idaho health officials plan to meet 7 a.m. Thursday in what will be their first meeting in a month.

Infection rates and hospital strains have slightly improved from the surge that took hold a few weeks ago. But things aren’t back to where they were before the Eastern Idaho Public Health board signaled the end to local restrictions in early March.

Since then, eastern Idaho became a hotbed for new COVID-19 cases in Idaho and the nation. Idaho Falls was listed by the New York Times as the nation’s worst hotspot. Rexburg was also in the Times’ top 10 metropolitan hotspots in the U.S. Hospital ICUs hit stress levels unseen since winter’s deadly surge.

Two more infectious coronavirus variants were later confirmed to be circulating in eastern Idaho. The state’s nascent effort to identify variants has provided little information on whether variants are driving eastern Idaho’s surge, but doctors were concerned about variants even before they were officially reported.

Some metrics have improved, though.

ICU occupancy rates dipped, and then started rising again early last week. The latest data show 72% of beds were full March 25 — a rate 10 or more percentage points higher than most days this year but lower than the 80 and 90 percent occupancy that worried leaders about a resource crisis late last year. The number of locals hospitalized with COVID-19 has plateaued at around 50 people each day since March 22.

New infection rates also dropped 29% since March 18, when Idaho Falls was listed as the nation’s worst hotspot, per capita. The day before, the region added 140 cases. On Tuesday night, Eastern Idaho Public Health reported 117 new cases.

Still, the region’s largest counties are hotspots in Idaho.

Idaho Falls was listed as the ninth-worst metropolitan area hotspot in the country by the New York Times on Tuesday. Eastern Idaho is averaging more than 80 cases per day within the past week — about 17% higher than on March 4, when the health board announced it would no longer regularly issue mask mandates.

At Thursday’s 7 a.m. meeting, the Eastern Idaho Public Health board plans to discuss finances, hear reports on state lawmaker’s actions and plans, and talk with doctors and experts about key COVID-19 developments such as vaccine rollout, infection rates and the status inside hospitals, according to an agenda.

Want to watch?

Usually, most board members participate virtually.

In-person attendance is available but limited to six people in the health district’s Idaho Falls office at 1250 Hollipark Drive, according to the meeting agenda. Social distancing and masks are required. Verbal public comments will not be accepted.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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