COVID-19 cases spike in Panhandle

by Keith Kinnaird
News Editor | June 30, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Sixty-five confirmed cases of novel coronavirus were diagnosed in North Idaho on Monday, according to the Panhandle Health District.

The surge in cases brings the regional total to 285 cases, 229 of which are in Kootenai County. Bonner County has 29 cases, while Benewah County has 13 cases.

There is one case in Boundary County and there are 13 cases involving patients whose primary county of residency is undetermined.

Broken down by age, 160 are between the ages of 19-49. Ninety people are 50 years or older and 35 are under the age of 18.

Broken down by gender, 143 cases involve females and 142 involve males, according to the health district.

COVID-19 cases are spiking throughout our area and we are seeing community transmission in Kootenai, Bonner, and Benewah counties. The virus has not let up and we can’t either,” the district said in a statement.

Contract tracing has shown that many of the new cases are a result of social settings where no or very few precautions are being taken. The district said masks, physical distancing and hand washing are proven ways of slowing the spread of the virus.

“The guidance continues to remain the same in combating this virus,” said Lora Whalen, PHD director. “Everyone who can, should be wearing a cloth face covering when out in public. Keeping a 6-foot distance between yourself and others is also very important. Lastly, hand washing and sanitizing high touch surfaces is recommended.”

PHD, Bonner General Health, and Kootenai Health are working to offer guidance as the area continues to see a rise in cases as businesses are opening and many are relaxing into summer.

“However, this is not the time to let our guard down,” Whalen said. “COVID-19 cases are spiking throughout our area and we are seeing community transmission in Kootenai, Bonner, and Benewah counties. The virus has not let up and we can’t either. Contract tracing has shown that many of the new cases are a result of social settings where no or very few precautions are being taken.

“The good news is we know what slows the spread; masking, physical distancing and handwashing work. Recent studies of masking efforts in New York, Wuhan and Italy show that wearing masks in public is the best way to lower community transmission rates when everyone participates”

Earlier this year, the region saw how social distancing and masking in public helped slow the virus spread so local health care systems were not overwhelmed in the first wave of COVID-19, said Karen Cabell, D.O., chief physician executive at Kootenai Health. “We are seeing a sharp increase in cases with lifted restrictions, more in the first three weeks of June than we had in March through May combined,” Cabell said. “We all want to keep our businesses open, safely go back to work, and have adequate hospital capacity for a surge of COVID-19 patients needing care.

She said the region’s medical community is asking North Idaho residents not to let their guard down and to continue to practice the proven measures to fight COVID-19. “Wear a mask in public, follow social distancing guidelines, stay home if you are sick, and wash your hands frequently,” Cabell said.

As more people are exposed to someone with COVID-19, more people are seeking testing. A common misconception is that if you had close contact to a person with COVID-19, then you should immediately be tested. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that, medical officials said. If you have had close contact with a positive case, you should begin to self-isolate from the general public and especially high-risk individuals. Stay home other than to seek medical treatment. If you do leave your home, wear a mask to prevent potential spread.

“It is important not to test too soon,” said Erin Binnall, community development manager/public information officer for Bonner General Health. “The incubation period for COVID-19 after exposure is approximately three to five days, and possibly up to 14 days. If you test too soon after exposure, you may test negative, giving you a false sense of relief. Your doctor can help you know the right time to be tested.”

Contact tracing is being conducted for each positive case through PHD. Through the process of contact tracing, PHD notifies individuals who may have been exposed to the virus. This process is completely voluntary and confidential.

“We all need to work together with health districts to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing and self-isolating for people with COVID-19 and their close contacts are critical to help slow transmission of COVID-19 in our communities, Whalen said.

According to the CDC, people with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported — ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.

“We have learned a lot about COVID-19, how it spreads, and the measures needed to keep people safe,” said Cabell. “At Kootenai Health we are taking every precaution so we can protect patients and staff from the spread of COVID-19 and also continue to provide needed care for our community.”

The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare recorded 209 confirmed or probable cases of the virus on Monday, lifting the statewide case total to 5,752 cases. The virus, which causes COVID-19, has taken 91 lives, Health & Welfare said.

New confirmed cases of coronavirus were reported by the Northeast Tri-County Health District. One new case was tallied in Pend Oreille County, bringing the total number to four. Stevens County has 18 cases and Ferry County had one case, NETCHD said on Monday.

The Montana State Department of Public Health recorded 56 new confirmed cases of the virus on Monday, pushing the statewide total to 919 cases. There are eight cases in Lincoln County and none in Sanders County, according to the state.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.