Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct information about spread between individuals in different households.
Eastern Idaho Public Health District said in a news release Tuesday that the region's rate of increase for COVID-19 cases surged to an all-time high, and officials are urging residents to adhere to public health guidelines on social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing.
Data for the health district, which spans the eastern corner of the state that includes Bonneville, Madison and Jefferson Counties, shows confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases rose by 29.5% last week, from May 26 to June 1, reaching a total of 101 cases. Health District Director Geri Rackow said the recent growth rate is "a high for the entire district since the pandemic started."
At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic in Idaho months earlier, most cases were spread between people who live in the same house as each other, the district said in the release.
The district said in the release that most new cases stem from gatherings where people haven't followed recommended safety measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing.
"We understand that social connections are vitally important to people, but we also want people to take precautions when interacting with others to minimize the opportunities for COVID-19 to be spread," Rackow said.
The spike could be associated with how people are socializing after Idaho's partial lifting of restrictions on social distancing and business activity that began last month. People who have COVID-19 but don't experience symptoms can spread it for up to 14 days which, Health District Community Health Division Administrator James Corbett said, means "if there is a case, we don't know for 14 days how many cases are tied back to that one."
Idaho entered stage two of Gov. Brad Little's reopening plan on May 16. Rackow said the governor's stay home order that existed prior to Idaho's partial reopening "did exactly what it was supposed to do, which was to slow down the spread of the disease."
As Idaho reopened and over the coming months, Rackow said health officials expect more cases. She said health officials want to manage the disease to avoid overloading hospital resources.
"We know the virus is out there circulating, and our goal is to keep the spread at a slow, manageable pace so we don't overwhelm our health care capacity," Rackow said.
Eastern Idaho Public Health District's announcement comes one day after southeast Idaho's first coronavirus death on Monday, which officials say is linked to a family gathering. The Idaho State Journal reported that Southeast Idaho Public Health District, which includes Bannock and Butte Counties, said the gathering caused a quarter of the 37 confirmed cases in Southeast Idaho since Idaho began partially reopening the state on May 1.
Idaho entered phase three of Gov. Brad Little's reopening plan on Saturday. That ushered in the opening of bars, movie theaters and public or private gatherings of up to 50 people, but the governor's move still called for people to follow social distancing and other safety measures.