Officials put Lemhi, Custer and Teton counties at ‘moderate’ risk for COVID-19

Lemhi, Custer and Teton counties are now at a moderate risk for community spread of COVID-19, local health officials say. 

Eastern Idaho Public Health’s board voted Thursday morning to move the counties from a minimal to moderate risk category following increased local cases of the illness in recent weeks. 

The change calls for several additional safety requirements for county residents, including restrictions on events and social gatherings, teleworking “where possible” and mandatory face coverings when physical distancing can’t be maintained. Click here for a breakdown of other changes.

Just one of the health district’s eight counties — Clark County — remains in the minimal risk category. Bonneville, Fremont, Jefferson and Madison counties were already in the moderate risk category. 

Thursday’s decision followed an update from EIPH Director Geri Rackow and representatives from Idaho Falls Community Hospital, Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center and Madison Memorial Hospital. 

While a recent surge in local cases have increased the number of patients in ICUs, hospital representatives said the bigger challenge stems from the longer stays these patients require and the closer attention medical professionals must give them. 

Rackow expressed discouragement with people refusing to wear masks or stay home when feeling sick, despite guidance from area health experts and officials. She pointed the board to state data showing that confirmed cases in EIPH’s eight counties are consistently the highest in Idaho. 

Increased cases have recently impacted area schools. High levels of absenteeism prompted the Idaho Falls School District to move its high schoolers to a hybrid learning model Wednesday. The rural Ririe School District implemented remote learning for all students earlier this week, following at least seven confirmed cases among staff.  

Officials did not take action Thursday to address a surge of cases in Madison County, which has seen the area’s sharpest increase in recent weeks. Madison’s single-day increase in cases was 40 as of Thursday morning, and the county this week surpassed Bonneville County for the most active cases in the region at 220.

Health officials said Thursday that they will “do their homework” in each county and bring back suggestions for further changes to a meeting scheduled for next week. 

Click here to compare school operational plans and county coronavirus risk levels from across Idaho.   

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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