Crush the Curve

A Crush the Curve sign is seen at The Waterfront at Snake River Landing on Monday, April 27, 2020. Crush the Curve organizers are offering COVID-19 virus and antibody testing according to its website.

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Last week, eastern and southeastern Idaho gained 52 cases of COVID-19, putting the total active cases in the area at 100.

Of the 300 total cases in southeast Idaho since the pandemic reached the region, 200 cases have recovered, according to public COVID-19 case trackers hosted on websites for Eastern and Southeastern Idaho Public Health districts as of Saturday evening. On June 14, the districts reported 248 total cases. On June 13, eastern Idaho confirmed its first COVID-19 related death, which comes two weeks after southeastern Idaho confirmed its first death.

Statewide, COVID-19 cases have been on the rise in the past few weeks — with average daily case counts increasing despite testing staying flat, or even falling during the second week of June. That’s according to the state’s COVID-19 case tracking website. This means the accelerating case count can’t be explained solely by more testing.

On multiple days last week, Idaho saw daily case spikes of nearly or more than 100 new cases. The last time Idaho saw rises like that was in April, during the early stages of the pandemic.

Cases in states that neighbor Idaho have also spiked, which public health experts say could lead to more cases in the Gem State. Like Idaho, many of those states have rolled back restrictions on social interaction, including travel.

The state’s caseload rose by 607 last week, as it reported a total of 4,006 cases on Saturday evening, up from June 14’s count of 3,399 cases.

These totals include both confirmed cases and probable cases, which are people who have symptoms of COVID-19 and have been in close contact with a confirmed case, but have not received a positive test result themselves.

Gov. Brad Little told the Idaho Press that he’s considering stepping back in handling pandemic-related restrictions and, instead, allowing regional health officials to decide how the state would enter into a partial rollback of the state’s reopening plan.

Last week marked the first that Idaho has been in Stage 4 of Gov. Brad Little’s four-stage Idaho Rebounds plan to lift restrictions on social interaction and “re-open” the state. When Little announced the move June 11, he said Idaho “narrowly” met standards to enter the final stage of his plan, which include a low number of hospital admissions and a low number of infections for hospital workers.

Idaho officials won’t have a clear idea of how the last stage of Idaho’s reopening impacts case counts in Idaho for another week or longer, as people with COVID-19 can go as long as two weeks without showing symptoms; some never show them. But Little has said he expects cases to increase, but to a level that is manageable to avoid overloading hospitals.

Johns Hopkins University reported on Saturday evening that 5.44% of Idaho’s COVID-19 tests during the past seven days have come back positive. That barely puts Idaho among the 23 states which have more than 5% of their COVID-19 tests return positive, according to Johns Hopkins’s count. The university reports that 29 states are below the 5 percent positivity benchmark. (The count includes both Puerto Rico and D.C., in addition to the 50 states.)

The state reports daily how many tests were performed in each of Idaho’s seven health districts, but it does not readily provide rates for how many of those tests prove positive. As of Saturday evening, roughly 72,600 tests had been administered in Idaho.

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.