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Health

Idaho’s case rate could be about three times higher than state numbers show

Jan 11 - Published vs Estimated Incidence Rate
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
Idaho's actual seven-day average case right could be nearly three times higher than the number publicly available, as of Jan. 10

Health data published by Idaho is not currently showing an accurate picture of the state’s COVID infections, health officials said during a media briefing Tuesday.

“The rapid increase in positive test results being received and the significant number of case investigations that need to be conducted at our local public health districts each day has resulted in our published dashboard displaying a current case incidence that may not necessarily reflect really where we are in Idaho,” said Dr. Kathryn Turner, the deputy state epidemiologist.

The state dashboard says more than 13,000 positive test results have yet to be processed. If those pending results were factored into the statewide seven-day-average case rate, Idaho’s COVID-19 incidence rate would have been 2.8 times higher than the state dashboard indicates for Jan. 10.

On that day, official numbers said there were roughly 48 positive cases per 100,000 people, but state health officials estimate the number was more likely around 135 per 100,000 people. That would be one of the highest incidence rates Idaho has seen over the course of the pandemic.

“The increase in cases over the last 10 days has been significant,” Turner said.

Local disease investigators at Idaho’s seven public districts only submit case numbers to the statewide system once they’re able to confirm a positive lab result belongs to an Idaho resident. They also attempt to contact each person who has tested positive.

Faced with 3,000 positive results to process a day, public health districts are exceedingly unable to turn those investigations around within 24 hours, Turner said.

“For that reason, some of our public health districts have been unable to keep up with the recent volume of laboratory results,” she said.

The high case numbers have Idaho officials concerned the state could go back into crisis standards of care, which it was under statewide for nearly 70 days last fall.

“It would not surprise me to see us go back into crisis standards of care,” said Dave Jeppesen, the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

“Health care systems are under a tremendous amount of stress right now,” he said, largely because of high numbers of staff that are out of work due to testing positive or being exposed to the virus.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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