Panhandle Health sends Kootenai, Boundary counties to 'red'

| October 23, 2020 1:00 AM

Panhandle Health District officially moved Kootenai and Boundary counties' COVID-19 status from a moderate “orange” to a substantial “red” risk category Thursday.

“The last two weeks have seen significant growth in the number of new cases of COVID-19 that are being detected through testing,” Panhandle Health’s epidemiology specialist Jeff Lee said. “We are now at a new point where we have not only come up to the level of our mid-July to mid-August peak, but we’ve exceeded it.”

Any one of three metrics can thrust the risk change from “orange” to “red,” including if the number of new cases in a rolling seven-day period exceeds 30 per 100,000 people. Kootenai County’s rolling rate jumped to 37.5 new cases per 100,000 people. The latest spike now has the county seeing 76 new cases per day.

“We really want people to know, with two of our counties being in red, we’re seeing a higher risk of community transmission,” said Katherine Hoyer, PHD spokeswoman. "We should be taking precautions. We can’t relax."

A second metric to determine a move to red involves local health care capacity. If a hospital meets or exceeds its capacity, or if it cannot handle a surge in cases, that category shifts from orange to red. Jon Ness, chief executive officer of Kootenai Health, joined a group of doctors from the hospital to give a dire report to PHD Thursday.

"We have a problem, and it’s not getting better," he said.

On Wednesday, Kootenai Health said that its health care capacity was all but maxed out, and that it was considering the possibility of transporting patients to Seattle and Portland.

Either hospital capacity or the rolling case rate could trigger the health district to move the county into red, as could the county’s test positivity rate, provided it reached over 20 percent. Kootenai County’s test positivity rate remains at 13.7 percent.

A move to the substantial red category means an elevated list of recommendations — not mandates — the health district makes to its county residents and visitors.

Hoyer said that in addition to the bare-minimum precautions of wearing a mask, washing your hands, practicing social distancing and staying home if you’re sick, consider limiting travel and limiting interactions with at-risk populations.