Health officials are warning that problems from COVID-19 are worsening in Kootenai County.
The Panhandle Health District on Thursday moved the county up to the moderate risk level, the second-worst category for COVID-19 activity. The change was based on three key metrics: hospitalizations, testing positivity rate and seven-day incidence rate.
School districts and other agencies often use the levels to determine restrictions and other rules aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Kootenai County has had an increase in both the positivity rate and the seven-day incidence rate, Panhandle Health spokeswoman Katherine Hoyer said. The health district also consulted with officials from Kootenai Health hospital, who agreed it would be best to move the county up a level.
For a county to reach a moderate risk level, it has to have a seven-day rolling average of 16-30 cases per 100,000 people, a testing positivity rate of 8.1% to 20% or a regional hospital bed occupancy greater than 90%.
As of Thursday, Kootenai County’s seven-day moving average is 21 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the Idaho Division of Public Health.
The Panhandle Health District, which includes Kootenai, Benewah, Bonner, Boundary and Shoshone counties, reported 62 new cases on Thursday. The district’s total number of cases is now 4,131. There are 30 people hospitalized due to the virus and 69 people have died due to the virus across the five counties.
The health district also reported its first COVID-19 deaths in Bonner County. One man and one woman, both in their 80s, died.
It is unclear how school districts will decide to move forward with the new risk level, Hoyer said.
“It is really up to the individual school and district to decide if they are in-person or hybrid,” she said. “We just want to provide the data and most up-to-date risk assessment.”
The Coeur d’Alene Schools board will meet 11:30 a.m. Monday to discuss the category change, spokesperson Scott Maben said. Any change approved by the board will take hold Oct. 26 to allow students and families time to prepare.
“It’s not unexpected, as we’ve monitored the recent trend with community transmission,” Maben said in an email.
The district opened the year at the “orange” level, allowing for blended learning with two in-person days and three remote days, and half of students in class at once.
The district has been in its own “yellow” minimal risk plan since Oct. 5, meaning it allows in-person learning, masks and social distancing.
As of Wednesday, 20 individuals were isolating in the school district after testing positive for the virus.
The Post Falls School District also started the year at the “orange” level but recently switched to the “yellow” category. As of Monday, all students are attending in-person classes five days a week. Students are expected to social distance when possible and wear face coverings.
As of Thursday, the school board will not be changing how the district is delivering classes, school board clerk Kerri Zeller said in an email. The board will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed.
As of Wednesday, the district had nine active coronavirus cases, including six at Post Falls High School.
The Panhandle Board of Health is set to meet Oct. 22 to discuss a COVID update, including evaluating the status of the Kootenai County mask mandate, which has been in place since the end of July.
Gov. Brad Little urged Idaho residents in a statement Thursday to ramp up “personal actions” to better slow the spread of the virus. He also pointed to the direct connection to rising COVID-19 case counts and the strain on health care facilities.
The goal throughout the pandemic has been to slow the spread of the virus so people have access to ordinary health care, he said.
“Our personal actions are free of cost and a minor sacrifice relative to the rewards,” Little said in a statement. “This is about personal responsibility – something Idaho is all about. Wear a mask. Watch your distance from others. Wash your hands. Do these things so our kids can stay in school, our loved ones stay safe, and our economy can continue to prosper.”
Cases across the Inland Northwest are also rising.
Numbers in Spokane County continue to climb, with the Spokane Regional Health District reporting 133 new cases on Thursday. Two more people died from the virus, bringing the county total to 181. There are 26 county residents hospitalized.
The county has seen 8,492 total cases, with about 72% considered recovered.
Cases in Whitman County continue to rise and spread throughout the community, after first only appearing on the Washington State University campus. The county saw 31 new cases on Thursday, mostly under the age of 39. Three people are hospitalized.
On Thursday, the Pullman Regional Hospital reported a localized outbreak, with two employees in the same department testing positive. Both employees are now quarantining, and all staff who were in close contact have been tested, according to a news release.
Currently, the hospital restricts visitors in all inpatient areas . Only one person may accompany a patient giving birth, and only necessary chaperones are allowed to accompany patients.
Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Allen contributed to this report.
Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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