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News >  Idaho

Idaho Panhandle counties see community spread of virus as state reopens

UPDATED: Thu., June 4, 2020

A member of the medical staff walks past the triage tent that is set up at Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho for coronavirus testing on Friday, March 20. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
A member of the medical staff walks past the triage tent that is set up at Kootenai Health in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho for coronavirus testing on Friday, March 20. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Panhandle Health District officials confirmed community transmission of COVID-19 in Kootenai, Benewah and Bonner counties.

The majority of COVID-19 cases in the Panhandle are in Kootenai County, but health officials announced that Benewah and Bonner counties now have cases of COVID-19 in people who have no contact with confirmed cases or travel history connected to outbreaks.

Staff at the Panhandle Health District are working on contact tracing for the cases. If case counts continue to grow, the district will expand its staffing or ask the state for help.

While testing has increased to some extent, health district officials also believe reopening might have to do with the increase in cases.

“When we look at how the increase in cases by a timeline goes, it really does correlate with reopening as well,” said Katherine Hoyer, public information officer with the district.

Gov. Brad Little’s reopening recommendations include encouraging Idahoans to wear face coverings in public, but they are not required to do so. Health officials are encouraging residents to do so, however, as well as asking them to maintain physical distance from others while in public.

“It’s really not the time to let our guard down now,” Hoyer said.

The Panhandle Health District has 97 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 78 of those in Kootenai County. Bonner County has five cases and Benewah County has seven. The health district is only monitoring 28 cases, and the Panhandle has had no deaths due to the virus.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has 22 confirmed cases, associated with the reservation, which does not match the health district’s numbers due to the district connecting cases with a person’s county of residence as well as some cases in which health district staff could not verify a person’s county of residence.

Idaho is in Phase 3 of Gov. Little’s reopening plan, which allows bars, movie theaters and public pools to open, following certain guidelines and with some limited capacity.

Spokane adds 22 new cases

Health officials in Spokane County reported 22 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

That brings the county total to 651. No new deaths were reported, and seven people are hospitalized.

State health officials encouraged Washington residents to seek out testing if they have any symptoms of COVID-19.

Secretary of Health John Wiesman asked residents to get tested if they experience any of the symptoms of the virus including fever, coughing and shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea or loss of taste or smell.

Wiesman said we have to unlearn some of the previous messaging around testing, such as when health officials were asking people without severe symptoms to isolate at home, due to limited testing supplies.

Now the state supply of testing materials is more stable, Gov. Jay Inslee said in a press conference Thursday.

“The infection rate is probably going down somewhat at this point,” Wiesman said. “We certainly see that when we look at our county rates, so there are fewer people with symptoms so all of those things are playing together, so we’ve got the capacity (to test).”

Spokane County has a 3.7% infection rate of COVID-19, and nearly 17,000 residents have been tested for the virus.

Seven counties have applied for Phase 3 of Inslee’s Safe Start plan, and many more have applied for Phase 2 or a variation of Phase 1. Decisions on those applications are forthcoming, and Wiesman said a team is dedicated to reviewing those applications that meets daily.

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