Majority of Idaho students live in coronavirus “hot spots”

More than 75 percent of Idaho’s students go to school in areas considered coronavirus “hot spots,” according to definitions set by national officials.

The Centers for Disease Control last week released new guidance in favor of reopening schools in person this fall for the sake of students’ academic, social and physical health. But CDC director Robert Redfield acknowledged that schools in “hot spots” face a particular challenge when it comes to reopening, the Washington Post reported.

“In areas where there are hot spots, remote and distance learning may need to be adopted for some amount of time,” Redfield said, according to the Post.

These “hot spots,” by Redfield’s definition, would include areas where more than 5 percent of coronavirus tests come back positive.

Twenty-seven Idaho counties would be considered “hot spots” by that definition, according to a White House coronavirus report obtained by the Center for Public Integrity in mid-July.

At the time of the report, 11 of those counties were considered “red zones” — areas where more than 10 percent of coronavirus tests come back positive and new cases exceed 100 per 100,000 people.

These include some of Idaho’s most populous areas, such as Ada and Canyon counties, which have an outsized share of Idaho’s students.

According to state enrollment data, 60 percent of Idaho’s public students go to school in counties considered “red zones.” And more than 75 percent are enrolled in counties that would be considered COVID-19 “hot spots.”

The numbers add context to conversations about reopening schools for in-person learning. Idaho’s continued battle with COVID-19 has complicated reopening plans for school districts and charter schools across the state, and time is running short before the school year starts.

Last week, the Caldwell School District in Canyon County announced its plan to postpone the school year and implement a mix of in-person and distance learning. The Boise School District could change its reopening plans next week, as the coronavirus continues to plague Ada County. Boise in June unveiled a plan to reopen with in-person classes five days a week, but Ada County’s surge in confirmed coronavirus cases has prompted leaders to revisit the issue.

If school’s opened today, Boise announced in an email Monday, “our recommendation would have to be to have all students in a virtual space, and not physically attending our schools.”

Boise has three weeks until the scheduled start of school on Aug. 17, and coronavirus rates could change before then. The district will confer with health officials again next week to decide whether students will return in-person in the fall.

Sami Edge

Sami Edge

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