Over the past few weeks, we have seen the effects of a very, very contagious Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. Omicron currently makes up more than 88 percent of cases in Idaho. The percent of positive tests (percent positivity) doubled from 8.6 percent on Dec. 25, 2021, to 17.1 percent on Jan. 1, 2022. It increased yet again for the week ending Jan. 8 to 25.7 percent. To put that in perspective, the testing positivity rate at the peak of the recent Delta variant was 17.3 percent for the week ending Sept 11, 2021.
Multiple Idaho healthcare providers are reporting testing positivity rates this week above 30 percent, with some as high as 40 percent. We expect statewide testing positivity to continue to increase and stay well above the goal of 5 percent for some time to come.
Given how contagious Omicron is, we are seeing and expect to see large numbers of people coming down with COVID-19 at the same time. This will cause many people to be out of work at the same time. This has a double negative impact on healthcare systems, which includes primary care, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.
Healthcare systems across the state are seeing the number of COVID-19 patients increase dramatically at the same time that a large number of healthcare workers are unable to work either because they are sick with COVID-19 or have been exposed to COVID-19. This means that healthcare capacity is decreasing while demand for healthcare services is increasing.
That is causing a tremendous amount of stress right now for Idaho’s healthcare systems and we expect that to get worse before it gets better.
All of us wish the Delta variant wave from late last year was the last wave of COVID-19. Unfortunately, this current wave of Omicron is infecting many more people faster than any other wave.
We are asking you to please take precautions for yourself and your family. It is now more important than ever before to follow a few simple practices:
- Choose to wear a quality mask. Properly worn masks work to protect others and you.
- Wash your hands often.
- Choose to get vaccinated.
- If you have been vaccinated, choose to get a booster.
- Stay home if you are sick.
While we do expect more breakthrough cases with the Omicron variant, the data is showing that a booster shot will reduce the risk of severe outcomes, even with Omicron. And a booster shot will greatly reduce your risk of a severe case of COVID-19.
COVID-19 testing in Idaho
Testing is an essential tool during the pandemic to reduce the spread of the virus: Even if you have very mild symptoms such as a scratchy throat or cold-like symptoms, it may be COVID-19, and testing is important so you can take appropriate action if it turns out to be COVID-19.
However, there is a very limited supply of rapid tests available, especially the over-the-counter, at-home tests. Currently, the manufacturing of rapid tests is not keeping up with demand. Nationally, and in Idaho, we are expecting to see a bigger supply of rapid tests available in the coming weeks. In the interim, you can purchase tests online to have for when you need them.
Even so, PCR testing is available statewide, and results are usually available between 2-4 days. Testing locations statewide can be found by looking at our coronavirus.idaho.gov site or by contacting your local public health district.
If you can’t find a test, please take precautions to avoid infecting others. I know we are all tired of this ongoing pandemic. Unfortunately, we are in a surge, and we are again asking all Idahoans to stay safe and do your part to keep your family and friends healthy.
Have a safe and healthy weekend.