As schools reopen, K-12 coronavirus case numbers surge

The coronavirus is surging through Idaho’s K-12 schools — at a rapid rate not seen a year ago.

For the week ending Friday, the state reported 1,213 new coronavirus cases involving 5- to 17-year-olds. The state releases aggregate case data by age groups, but does not release data on where COVID-positive children live or attend school.

Nonetheless, the trend is unmistakable. Case numbers have increased twelvefold since mid-July, and the middle of summer vacation, when fewer than 100 children contracted the coronavirus over a week.

The new case numbers also suggest historic outbreaks in schools — and a worsening situation:

  • Last week’s child cases eclipse numbers from last fall, and the state’s previous coronavirus surge. The state counted 1,014 child cases in one week just before Thanksgiving. For the week ending Dec. 11 — when Idaho’s overall case numbers reached a pandemic peak — school-age children accounted for 1,002 of these cases.
  • What’s more, child cases now comprise a growing percentage of the state’s coronavirus caseload. Last week, child cases accounted for 15 percent of the overall count. Through much of the pandemic, 5- through 17-year-olds have accounted for roughly one tenth of Idaho’s coronavirus cases.

The current surge coincides with the new school year, which has started under a patchwork of local protocols.

A handful of schools — in large districts such as Boise and Caldwell, and smaller districts such as Blaine County and McCall — have adopted mask requirements that align with Centers for Disease Control guidelines. The West Ada School District, the state’s largest district, has chosen an optional mask policy for students and staff alike.

Meanwhile, from Rockland to Grand View to Payette, a few schools have either closed or shifted to virtual learning due to local coronavirus outbreaks.

Throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 has posed more severe health risks to older people and patients with other health issues. While nearly 2,400 Idahoans have died of COVID-19, none were under the age of 18. Since the onset of the pandemic, 187 Idaho children have been hospitalized with COVID-19, less than 2 percent of overall hospitalizations.

While many children might avoid severe COVID-19 complications, even from the new and predominant delta variant, school outbreaks pose a community risk, retired St. Luke’s Health Care System CEO Dr. David Pate said on an Idaho Education News podcast last week. If the highly contagious delta variant spreads through a school, he said, parents and other adults could be susceptible to the virus — particularly if they are unvaccinated.

That doesn’t mean children are free of risk, however. Children under the age of 12 are not eligible for the vaccine, and vaccination rates for junior high school- and high school-age children continue to lag below adult vaccination rates. Consequently, Dr. David Peterman of Primary Health Medical Group says there’s only one way to stop the spread among children: wearing masks.

“I’m extremely concerned about the children,” Peterman said during a recent Department of Health and Welfare media briefing. “Now is the time for parents and their children to wear masks.”

Other troubling numbers

Overall cases: The state and its seven health districts Friday reported 225,773 confirmed or probable coronavirus cases, 7,852 cases in the past week. The one-week case count grew by a sobering 62 percent from the preceding week, and represents the highest weekly count since mid-December.

Record cases at Boise State University: The state’s largest university reported 127 cases last week, as administrators say in-person classes and campus events could be in jeopardy.

Hospitalizations: COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions both climbed to pandemic peaks on Tuesday (548 hospitalizations and 173 ICU admissions). Both numbers receded slightly Wednesday. On Tuesday, Gov. Brad Little said he would deploy the National Guard and seek federal reinforcements to help overwhelmed hospitals.

Positive test results: This indicator continues to tick upward. For the week ending Aug. 28, 14.2 percent of tests came back positive, the highest rate since early January. An outbreak with a positivity rate exceeding 5 percent is considered out of control.

Vaccinations: Idaho’s uphill vaccination climb slowed last week. In all, 11,341 Idahoans completed their vaccination cycle, a one-week decline of 14 percent.

Current vaccination rates: All eligible Idahoans, 49 percent; 12- to 15-year-olds, 22 percent; 16- and 17-year-olds, 30 percent; 18- to 24-year-olds, 36 percent.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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