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COVID surging in Blaine County, despite county’s high vaccination rate

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 11:08 AM MST
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BLAINE COUNTY, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) — The Omicron variant is surging in the Gem State, and Blaine County has the highest incident rate in Idaho, but it also has the highest vaccination rate in the state. However, many are wondering why COVID is surging in an area that is highly protected against the virus.

Since late December, COVID-19 has been surging in Blaine County. The county’s current 7-day rolling incident rate is 245 cases per 100,000 which is the highest in the state. The area’s positivity rate is also close to 30%.

“Unfortunately, we are facing another wave of COVID-19, and this current wave of Omicron is infecting many people faster than any other waves,” said Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.

Blaine County also has the highest fully vaccination rate in the state at 80%. The South Central Public Health District attributes the area’s surge partly due to some parts of the county seeing a high influx of tourists during the holiday season.

“You have a lot of people in a small area. It’s a huge county, but a lot of people congregate in Sun Valley, Hailey, Ketchum so they can enjoy the skiing,” said SCPHD Public Health Division Administrator Logan Hudson. “You increase that population, double or triple it, and it’s going to be a place where disease spreads easily.”

Blaine County, Ketchum, Hailey, and Sun Valley also have some form of a mask mandate in place. Some people are wondering if COVID-19 fatigue might be setting in, causing some not to comply with health orders in place. Ketchum councilwoman Amanda Breen expressed concern during a recent council meeting right before the holidays that some businesses in Ketchum are not complying with the city’s heath order.

“Many residents and certain businesses contacted me and said, ‘How come the city is not more strongly talking to businesses that are not complying with our mask mandate and not trying to keep their employees and customers healthy and safe’,” said Breen. “As a city, we need to be doing a lot stronger outreach and starting to issue warnings at least to ensure these certain businesses comply with our mandate,” Breen said.

The fine for violating the city’s health order is an infraction $100. Breen said she doesn’t endorse police going out to businesses and issuing fines, but there is a law and place and it must be respected. She said that Ketchum’s next council meeting is on January 18th, and the issue is on the agenda for a full discussion.

“Again I think it is late. January 18th is well past our holiday rush, but we still do have a lot of visitors and a very high positivity rate here in Blaine County,” Breen said.

Even with the current outbreak, health officials say it is still important to listen to trusted sources and not social media. St. Luke’s Wood River Interim COO/CNO Almita Nunnelee said every precaution they take is a layer in preventing the illness and the severity of the illness.

“Those that are vaccinated and boostered who do get sick by and by large are not as ill as others, so that is still your best protection from Omicron and other variants,” said Nunnelee. “Mask wearing can prevent the transmission and reduce the viral load, so we need to do not only what we can do to protect ourselves but really to protect others.”

Breen said so far from what she has heard it seems as though Omicron is more contagious but the severity of the illness is less extreme. Blaine County’s health outcomes have not been “too dire”, and people have been home sick, but not filling up the hospitals. However, Nunnelee said from a St. Luke’s System view it is too early for them to draw conclusions at this point.

“We know we don’t have as many hospitalizations here in Wood River as we did with Delta, partly due to our high vaccination rate,” said Nunnelee. “We did have some that did get very sick and had to be transferred to a higher level of care, largely occurring in our unvaccinated population.”

Right now Blaine County is the only county in South Central Public Health District’s Regional Risk Summary to have a “high” COVID risk assessment. The other counties are moderate, and Camas is minimal. Hudson said there is a strong possibility things might get worse in Blaine County before they get better.

“I would guess based on what I am hearing, this is just speculation and we will meet on Thursday, they will continue to increase in their risk assessment,” Hudson said.

In the end, many hope this latest wave of Omicron ends soon, and some form of normalcy can start to return.

“I have seen shops periodically close, again it might be just for a day or two, while somebody is getting tested or certain employees get better,” Breen said.

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