Health and Welfare officials monitoring COVID outbreaks at colleges and universities


An increase in COVID-19 cases among college students and other young adults is helping fuel an overall statewide rise in cases, Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said.

Speaking during a telephone town hall meeting with Gov. Brad Little, Jeppesen said the highest growth in new cases in Idaho is among 18- to 29-year-olds.

“We think that is driven by young adults going back to college,” Jeppesen said.

Dave Jeppesen, director of Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare, speaks at a March 25 news conference, when Gov. Brad Little announced a statewide stay-at-home order due to coronavirus community spread. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

The numbers from colleges and universities showed increases last week. On Monday, Idaho Education News published a detailed look at increasing cases at seven colleges and universities.

Boise State University reported 85 new cases last week, up from 77 the week before.

The University of Idaho reported 67 new cases last week, up from 25 the week before. On Monday, U of I President Scott Green sent out a memo alerting the campus community to outbreaks detected in the university’s fraternity and sorority system, that resulted in eight chapters being quarantined.

After announcing the outbreak, Green said faculty who prefer to teach online this week will be allowed to do so without any additional approval.

“Public Health believes our classroom protocols are working and they have not identified any classroom transmission through their contract tracing,” Green and Interim Provost Torrey Lawrence wrote Monday. “We recognize, though, despite the safety protocols in place in the classroom, some may have heightened concerns about the increased infection rate.”

Meanwhile, Idaho State University reported 26 new confirmed and probable cases last week, up from 15 the week before.

The statewide increases are not just tied to higher education. Jeppesen said several other factors are playing a role:

  • Outbreaks centered in jails, prisons and long-term care facilities.
  • The impact of gatherings from Labor Day weekend.
  • Social gatherings, particularly among people who are most familiar with each other and might let their guard down.
  • Geographically, health officials are tracking hotspots in Eastern Idaho. Last week, the Eastern Idaho Public Health District in the Idaho Falls area saw the highest number of cases anywhere in the state.

“Across the country we are seeing the case count has started to rise here in the past couple of weeks, and Idaho is no exception to that,” Jeppesen said.

Little will conduct a news conference Thursday to provide additional information about the coronavirus in Idaho.

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