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Public officials are urging people to accept "personal responsibility" to adhere to health guidelines as new coronavirus cases in Idaho see a resurgence unlike ever before.

Gov. Brad Little said it last Thursday.

"This is about personal responsibility, something Idaho is all about," he said as he told the state that, for the ninth time, it would remain in the last stage of his four-stage reopening plan, which largely leaves no statewide restrictions in place.

Little noted that eastern Idaho hospitals were seeing their resources stretched thin as more virus patients fill beds.

A group of 14 hospitals across eastern and southeastern Idaho wrote in a news release last Wednesday that they're "experiencing the highest number of virus patients" that they've "ever seen throughout the entire pandemic."

The hospitals called upon the public "to practice the personal responsibility behaviors that science has indicated will reduce the spread of COVID-19," such as masking, distancing and health monitoring.

Eastern Idaho health officials offered similar remarks two weeks ago, saying that complying with mask mandates and slight restrictions on large gatherings that span seven of eight counties here should be "personal responsibility."

The pandemic news, this week, in eastern Idaho:

1. More pandemic firsts

In the first fifteen days of October, eastern Idaho added 2,130 new coronavirus cases. Madison County alone, with 30% of the region's population, added 917 roughly 43% of the region's new cases.

Put another way: In half of October, eastern Idaho has added almost as many cases as were added throughout September, when 2,244 cases set a new single-month high that was fueled, in part, by Madison County's shift from a regional cold spot to a national hotspot for new virus cases.

On at least three days since Oct. 6, around 70% of intensive care unit beds were filled in eastern Idaho. A little less than half of all hospital beds in the region have been available on any given day in recent weeks. The latest hospital capacity reporting available Friday was for Oct. 13.

Hospital administrators have warned that hospital staff are a more reliable way to measure health care capacity than the number of beds available. Health district Director Geri Rackow said two weeks ago that officials were working to find a more reliable method to track hospital capacity.

Eastern Idaho Public Health's board didn't meet last week. Its next planned meeting is 7 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 22.

2. Bad testing news

For another week, eastern Idaho has had the highest rate of tests that return positive compared to all seven health district region's in Idaho.

In another pandemic first, 22.6% of coronavirus tests on eastern Idaho residents returned positive between Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, the latest period for which reporting is available. That represents a steady and significant climb since the region's test positivity rate hit a low 11.2% in mid-September.

National health experts say when 5% or fewer tests return positive, then most virus cases are being reported. Between Oct. 4 and Oct. 11, 11.4% of virus tests on Idahoans returned positive.

The state approved tens of millions of dollars in funding in late July to expand testing capacity throughout Idaho. Some of that money was dedicated to schools.

Eastern Idaho Public Health's spokeswoman told the Post Register via text message Thursday: "We don't have much to report on testing this week. Hopefully, by next week, we will have all the details ironed out regarding testing for schools."

3. Virus cases grow in long-term care centers

A state report released Friday showed at least 14 new coronavirus cases were reported in 20 eastern Idaho long-term care facilities last week. No more facilities reported outbreaks, and no more deaths were reported. At least 172 coronavirus cases and nine deaths from COVID-19 are linked with long-term care facilities in eastern Idaho.

Long-term care facilities often house people who are at high risk for severe complications from COVID-19. Statewide, long-term care centers are linked to 290 of Idaho’s more than 500 deaths tied to COVID-19, as of Friday. The report says long-term care centers are linked with 3,095 cases in Idaho.

Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare says a facility has an active outbreak if there has been a confirmed or probable case among staff or residents in the past 28 days.

At least 13 facility outbreaks in eastern Idaho are active, accounting for 128 total cases. Seven outbreaks that were linked with 44 cases and six deaths are resolved, meaning no cases were reported in those outbreaks in the past 28 days.

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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