As Delta rises, state still not able to sequence most COVID positives for variants

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

As new cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions have nearly doubled in Idaho in the last few weeks, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is eyeing a rise in confirmed Delta variant cases.

During a media call on Tuesday, state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said not all hospitals and labs are sending samples in for that testing. But, she added, the number of test providers sending in samples is increasing, and the VA Medical Center has been able to help with additional sequencing. As of Tuesday, IDHW has identified an additional 26 samples with detectable Delta variant this week, a jump from last week’s 9 total cases.

“We’re starting to see what we’ve been expecting,” Hahn said, adding that number might change by Thursday, when IDHW releases official laboratory data each week. “As we test more, I think we’ll continue to find more Delta.”

Those 26 samples were from a batch of 284 sequenced samples. In that same batch, 148 were of the Alpha strain.

Hahn said the relatively low number of Delta cases doesn’t mean there isn’t more Delta in the state; Rather, the state still doesn’t have the ability to sequence all samples, and isn’t receiving samples from all providers.

“We hope Idahoans understand this as a warning that we do have the Delta here,” Hahn said.

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the Delta variant accounted for 83 percent of newly sequenced samples in the United States.

Source: Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, July 20, 2021 presentation

So far, Idaho hasn’t seen large numbers of young people being hospitalized, unlike other states with low COVID vaccination rates. Deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner said the state’s mean age of hospitalized patients has remained steady.

Since January 1, nearly 99 percent of hospitalizations, deaths, and new cases have been in people who were not fully vaccinated, according to Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Administrator of Public Health for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

“For those who have not yet been vaccinated, I urge you to get the vaccine,” said IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen.

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