Officials place Madison County at ‘high’ risk for COVID-19

Madison County is at a high risk for community spread of COVID-19, local health officials say. But residents won’t have to abide by stricter safety mandates.

The Eastern Idaho Public Health board on Thursday unanimously approved changes to its COVID-19 regional response plan, moving Madison County from a “moderate” to “high” risk level for the illness after a surge in local confirmed cases.

The changes include reducing the threshold for a high-risk designation from 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people to 30. Madison’s current active case rate is 61.2 per 10,000.

The New York Times Wednesday placed Madison’s county seat, Rexburg, atop a national list of metro areas hit hardest by the illness. Rexburg, home to Brigham Young University-Idaho, fell to No. 2 on the list Thursday.

Still, Madison County’s new designation won’t come with increased safety mandates. While board members moved the county into a higher risk category, they also slashed a series of mitigation strategies previously required for counties deemed high risk. The board got rid of a previous ban on social gatherings of more than 50 people, and said it will not limit local travel.

The board replaced those and other strategies with a broader call for local health officials to help “develop local education and mitigation efforts” with community members. Strategies from the health district’s lower risk categories of green and yellow will also apply to its high risk category, EIPH director Geri Rackow told the board.

Putting the county at high risk is now intended to raise “situational awareness” to inform community members of the “current level of activity in their community,” Rackow added.

Thursday’s decision followed more than two hours of discussion about COVID-19’s impact on area hospitals, and mitigation strategies that board member Ken Miner called “impossible to enforce.”

Madison County’s hospitalization rate surfaced as a focal point. Despite having the highest active case rate in the region, Madison County also has one of the region’s lowest hospitalization rates, at 1.9 percent of confirmed cases — something EIPH staffer James Corbett attributed to the county’s younger-than-average population as a result of BYU-Idaho.

The Madison School District’s 5,400 students have been on harvest break for the last two weeks and are set to return to school Oct. 13.

The district reports 26 active cases among students and staff.

“We are in daily contact with Eastern Idaho Public Health and take their recommendations seriously,” said Superintendent Geoff Thomas. “If there were future modifications in their direction, we would adapt and make the necessary modifications.”

EIPH will provide the public with a rundown of all changes to its regional response plan, Rackow told trustees. EdNews will update this story with a link to those changes as soon as they are available.

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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