Idaho’s first coronavirus case is linked to ISU-Meridian campus

Idaho’s first reported coronavirus case involved a student at Idaho State University’s Meridian campus.

Idaho State University President Kevin Satterlee

“The student is currently in self-isolation, last attended the campus on Tuesday, March 10th, and contact with others in our community was limited,” ISU President Kevin Satterlee wrote Saturday, in an email to the campus community. “All potentially impacted individuals who had contact with the student have already been notified and are being monitored.”

The announcement comes as health officials investigate the student’s contacts with ISU students and staff — and a second Ada County coronavirus case appears connected to this student. A state health official said the coronavirus case poses no risks to students and staff in the West Ada School District, which shares building space with ISU.

Saturday’s news connects two developments from Friday.

On Friday morning, ISU announced that it was closing its Meridian campus for cleaning, and placing a student and about a dozen other people into self-isolation. That decision came after a student returned from an out-of-state conference where the coronavirus had been confirmed.

Then, late Friday afternoon, Gov. Brad Little and public health officials announced the state’s first confirmed case of coronavirus. They identified the patient as an Ada County woman in her 50s, who contracted the coronavirus at a conference in New York City and is recovering at home. At the time, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials said the woman had not visited public schools.

ISU Meridian campus sits adjacent to administrative offices for the West Ada School District, the state’s largest school district, and West Ada’s Renaissance High School.

Friday’s comment was a reference to K-12 schools, not to colleges or universities, Central Health District program manager Brandon Atkins said Saturday afternoon. Health officials have determined that the woman had no contact with West Ada students or staff, and are focusing their investigation on students and staff on the ISU campus.

“There was no exposure risk to K-12,” Atkins said.

In his email, Satterlee said ISU decided to close the Meridian campus Friday morning, before the university received confirmation of the coronavirus case. And he said he sent his Saturday email minutes after receiving approval from Little and public health officials to identify the coronavirus patient as an ISU student.

“I do not share this information to cause alarm, but instead, to show that our university is proactively working with state and local public health officials to protect our university community,” Satterlee wrote.

ISU and all of the state’s two- and four-year colleges are shifting to online instruction in an attempt to head off the spread of the coronavirus. ISU plans to make the transition by March 30, after an extended spring break.

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has been classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. Worldwide, more than 156,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus, and more than 5,800 people have died from it, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Idaho was one of the last states in the union to report a coronavirus case. A second case was reported Saturday in Blaine County. Hours later, the Blaine County School District announced it is closing all schools and facilities through April 5.

As of Saturday evening, the state was reporting five confirmed cases of coronavirus in Idaho. One of the new cases involves an Ada County man. Quoting a statement from Central District Health, this Ada County patient “is presumed to have had the same shared risk exposure” as the ISU student, the Idaho Statesman reported Saturday night.

Here, in full, is Satterlee’s email:

Yesterday I wrote that our University would be fully transparent in our efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. I know this is a difficult time for many in the Bengal community. I share your concerns during this difficult time, and your well-being has always been on the forefront of my mind. 

A few minutes ago, we received approval from state public health officials to advise you that Idaho’s first confirmed case of COVID-19, announced by Governor Brad Little yesterday, was a student attending the Meridian campus. I do not share this information to cause alarm, but instead, to show that our University is proactively working with state and local public health officials to protect our University community. Please know that we are in active contact with state and local public health officials and are following their guidance in this situation.

Out of an abundance of caution, our University took action Friday morning to close our Meridian campus for cleaning. The closure and cleaning decision was made before we had confirmation of the COVID-19 case. The student is currently in self isolation, last attended the campus on Tuesday, March 10th, and contact with others in our community was limited. All potentially impacted individuals who had contact with the student have already been notified and are being monitored. Central District Health (CDH) is contacting those faculty, staff, and students who had closest contact with the student to provide further guidance. If you are not contacted by CDH or our University Health Center, then there is no reason for you to have elevated concern. CDH has advised us that this is not an illness that is spread through brief, casual contact. As you know, we have taken other actions regarding an extended spring break and the move to distance delivery to protect our faculty, students, and staff and slow the transmission of COVID-19. All classes will resume using distance-learning based options on March 30.

Please know we are working to actively address this situation. I ask all Bengals to be supportive of their classmates and colleagues as we navigate this difficult time together. Support each other and we will move forward as a team.

 

 

About 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 KIVI 6 On Your Side; "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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