On Tuesday evening, Boise City Council heard a presentation on the latest record numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Ada County.
After a low for case counts in early September, numbers of sick residents in Boise and the surrounding county have climbed to new heights in recent weeks with Thanksgiving and other holiday gatherings on the horizon.
Mayor Lauren McLean and other council members did not hint at what specific mitigation measures they would consider going forward, but several of them called the numbers “sobering.”
“As long as we spend our time chasing normal, normal gets further away,” McLean said. “We have to make sacrifices. Our kids can’t have normal (now) if we ever want them to have normal. It’s hard, but the data is showing winter is coming and what we’re experiencing right now is really serious.”
No sign of infection slowing down
Kimberly Link, manager for Central District Health’s Communicable Disease Program, said Ada County is at the highest levels of infection since the pandemic began. For the week beginning November 1, she expects the county to hit roughly 2,100 confirmed or probable cases by the time all data entry is complete. This is a large jump from the 1,329 recorded the week before.
At the last peak of infections in July, Ada County had a weekly average for daily caes of 44.44 cases per 100,000 people. For the last week, this number hit 56 per 100,000.
The number of children under 18 testing positive for COVID-19 is also on the rise. At its lowest point at the beginning of September, only 40 infections in this age group were recorded. Last week, Ada County had 252 cases of children with the virus. Although children are less likely to die of complications from COVID-19, Link said they can easily spread it to others.
Because of the high rates of infection throughout the community, Link said it’s hard to determine exactly where kids are getting sick.
“The thing that’s tough to know is whether or not that main exposure happened in the school setting or in the classroom session,” she said. “Was it time spent after school? Were they studying together? Did they play athletics together? Did they have family members who were infectious at the same time?”
Link said the health district is also closely monitoring the numbers of COVID-19 cases in residents over 70 because they have the highest risk of complications or death. There were only 16 cases of Ada County residents in this age group during the week of September 13, but it climbed to 168 confirmed cases in the week of November 1.
Hospitalizations on the rise
There are also a climbing number of Ada County residents in the ICU for COVID-19. As of November 9, there were 15 Ada County residents receiving intensive care for the virus and 37 receiving traditional levels of care in the hospital.
Link pointed out hospitalizations rise after case numbers pick up because it takes people a few days to get sick enough to need to go to the hospital. Because case numbers are continuing to rise, she warned the hospitals will continue to fill up.
“As we look at our case numbers rising right now, we are in a position where our numbers are saying at this moment we’re doing ok, but what we need to be aware of is anything we’re doing right now is not going to be seen by the hospitals for maybe three or four weeks down the line,” Link said. “It’s something we need to be proactive about and recognize that prevention is going to be key to help preserve our healthcare capacity here in the area.”
City Council Member Lisa Sanchez asked about why there isn’t more information about the race and ethnicity of people who are hospitalized or dying of COVID-19 in Ada County. Nationwide, studies show people of color are more likely to have severe outcomes of COVID-19.
Link told Sanchez race and ethnicity data is supposed to be recorded, but on many lab tests ethnicity information is “not coming through” or residents are declining to provide that information to the health district.
“That’s really concerning,” Sanchez said. “I don’t know if that has anything to do with the anti-immigrant sentiment we’ve dealt with over the last administration, but that is really concerning and I hope we can take a closer look at how we can gather that information.”