Idaho to begin testing all positive test samples for variants

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Currently, Idaho tests only a small number of positive COVID samples for variants. But as the so-called Delta variant spreads, and vaccination rates remain low in Idaho’s rural areas, that’s going to change.

During a Tuesday media briefing hosted by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said in the next week, Idaho’s labs should be able to test every positive sample for COVID variants, some of which are more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus.

As of Tuesday, 542 variants had been reported in Idaho, 441 of which were the Alpha, or UK variant. Of Idaho’s 44 counties, 27 have reported confirmed variant cases. Just one case of the Delta variant has been confirmed in Idaho so far, in an Ada County woman who had COVID in April.

Elsewhere, it’s a different story. The Delta variant has accounted for 20 percent of new cases in the United States in the last week, according to White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

Until now, Idaho laboratories have tested only specific, targeted samples, such as from patients who have recently traveled. During an April 6 briefing, Dr. Christopher Ball, chief of the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories, explained that samples of “enough quantity and quality” could be tested.

But the recent nationwide increase has prompted Idaho to increase its variant testing capacity.

“We are very concerned about the Delta variant, of course,” Hahn said. “We’ve been following and have been concerned about the reports.”

Hahn said there isn’t currently evidence that Idaho is experiencing undetected Delta variant spread on a large scale — case numbers remain low, as does the state’s positivity rate. But that could change quickly, and IDHW wants to be prepared to track those cases if, and when, the Delta variant arrives in Idaho, Hahn said. 

“I’m reassured we’re not too far behind the 8-ball right now,” Hahn said. 

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