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Idaho's COVID-19 test positivity rate skyrockets, breaking the pandemic record

Ian Max Stevenson, Idaho Statesman on

Published in News & Features

BOISE, Idaho — As of early this month, more than one out of four people tested in Idaho were positive for COVID-19.

Idaho's testing positivity rate jumped to 25.7% the week of Jan. 2-8, the highest statewide figure during the pandemic and another indicator of the speed at which the omicron variant has engulfed the state after the winter holidays.

The new positivity data, which is reported nearly a week later, was posted on the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's COVID-19 dashboard on Thursday.

Before Thursday, the highest weekly positivity rate seen was during the fall of 2020, when it was 19.1% the week of Nov. 15.

As recently as the week of Dec. 12, the positivity rate was 5.5%. Health officials aim for a positivity rate of 5% or less to indicate viral spread is more under control.

Case rates have also skyrocketed recently, to the point that local public health investigators have a backlog of nearly 18,000 unprocessed positive samples as of Thursday.

 

Nearly all positive test samples genomically sequenced by Health and Welfare in recent weeks were the omicron variant, suggesting that the new variant has mostly supplanted delta. Studies show that omicron may be three or four times more infectious than delta.

While COVID-19 hospitalizations in Idaho have climbed steadily in recent days, they are not near where they were last fall, when Idaho activated crisis standards of care to allow hospitals to ration care if necessary. At that time, a massive influx of almost entirely unvaccinated COVID-19 patients inundated the state's health system.

Research so far shows omicron is more transmissible but causes less severe illness than delta in most people. But during this surge, health officials say its rapidity could outrun the strain's weakened severity, pushing enough severely ill patients into hospitals over a shorter period of time to overwhelm them.

In recent days, Dr. Steven Nemerson, chief clinical officer for Saint Alphonsus Health System, called omicron "among the most contagious viruses known to man."

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