‘We have never seen a number like this before’: Idaho COVID positivity rate climbs to record high

BOISE, Idaho – With COVID cases surging in Idaho and health care workers calling out sick with the virus, Idaho health officials anticipate more hospitals in the state could move to crisis standards of care.

Right now, Southwest District Health, Central District Health and South Central District Health are in crisis standards of care because of staffing shortages and blood supply issues.

In a health briefing Tuesday, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare indicated that would likely expand to hospitals in other parts of the state.

“The current surge of omicron cases has created severe stress on Idaho’s entire healthcare system,” said IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen.

Hospitals in North Idaho only recently deactivated those crisis standards, but with cases climbing, returning to that standard is possible.

Idaho reported a record high positivity rate this week of 34.1%. That means of 100 tests taken, 34 are positive cases.

For a pandemic to be considered “over” that number needs to be below 5%.

The surge in cases, while incredibly high, is also currently being underreported.

State health officials Tuesday said there are 39,700 positive tests that have not been entered into the system because of “overwhelmed” public health districts.

That means 39,700 cases aren’t being reported in the state’s total.

IDHW estimates that, if those cases were recorded, Idaho would have seen 29,800 new cases last week. That doesn’t include the people who test positive with home tests and those who are infected with the virus, but have not been tested.

The state says some providers are recording much higher positivity rates than even the record high for the state.

Steve Nemerson is the Chief Medical Officer for St. Alphonsus Health System. He said Tuesday they’re seeing a positivity rate of 46%.

“We have never seen a number like this before,” Nemerson said.

Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country and the numbers haven’t moved much even with the surge in cases.

“We’re going to keep putting that message out there,” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Administrator of Public Health. She mentioned the state has grants available to health care providers to increase vaccination efforts.

READ: Nationwide blood shortage puts Idaho hospitals in dire need

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