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COVID is still in retreat, but Idaho experts remain cautious

An illustration created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The microscopic view of the virus is a grey globe with red spikes attached around it.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
An illustration created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the coronavirus. (Courtesy CDC)

The Omicron surge in Idaho is months behind us, but the test positivity rate has seen a slight uptick.

For the week-ending April 16, 2.2% of COVID-19 tests tracked by state health officials were positive; the first time that rate has been above 2% in a month. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has a goal of keeping the positivity rate at or below 5%.

Dr. David Peterman, CEO of Primary Health, said the test positivity at his network of neighborhood clinics in Ada and Canyon counties has more than quadrupled over the past four weeks, most recently to 9.2% as of April 25.

Previously, clinics have been an effective predictor for a rise in cases and hospitalizations across the broader community.

"This data would suggest we're going to see certainly more cases of COVID," he said.

But those numbers have caveats: Most people testing at clinics are there because they have symptoms or were exposed, which can inflate the system’s test positivity rate. COVID fatigue means some people won't get tested, even if they are symptomatic and that can throw the data off too.

Another way Peterman tracks the spread of COVID-19 is within his own work staff. In January, as Omicron spread like wildfire, nearly one-fifth of Primary Health employees contracted the virus. Since, just six tested positive in March, and so far in April, two employees have caught the virus.

"We are still being careful in our clinics. We still require patients to wear masks in clinical areas and the staff and the doctors still wear masks as they see patients," Peterman explained.

As masks came off at local schools, he says many of his employees who are also parents caught colds for the first time in a year or more – a good reminder of the importance of good hand washing, he said.

Recently, the BA.2 variant has accounted for between 80-90% of positive tests at Primary Health clinics.

"[It] seems to be very contagious, more contagious than Delta and Omicron. But however, it seems to not cause severe disease,” Peterman said.

He said he’s hopeful that means fewer hospitalizations even as cases may rise. Peterman is not currently predicting a surge, but says he’s cautious and watching the data carefully. And he continues to urge people to get vaccinated.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.
When I was a University of Utah freshman, I marched up the hill to KUER to hand deliver a $20 check. The receptionist was so excited a teen listened (and donated!) to public radio that she told me to call the news director for an internship. I did and I've been working in media ever since.

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