Public health officials reported 41 new cases of the coronavirus in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington on Friday.
Whitman County reported 22 cases and the five counties covered by Public Health – Idaho North Central District registered 19 new cases. Neither Asotin County nor Garfield County had new cases Friday.
The viral illness has been surging lately among young, college-age students in Pullman and in Native Americans on and off the Nez Perce Reservation.
Kayeloni Scott, a spokesperson for the Nez Perce Tribe, said the spike in cases on the reservation have been traced to people traveling out of the area and coming back with COVID-19. But she said it is now spreading within the tribal community.
“At this point, it’s pretty widespread,” she said. “We are just trying to cut down on the transmission as much as possible.”
She did say the number of daily positive cases has been on a downward trend, but cases are still being detected.
Through Friday, there had been 585 cases of COVID-19 reported by Public Health – Idaho North Central District. Of those, 134, or about 23%, involved Native Americans, who make up just 3.3% of the population in the five-county region. None of the 19 deaths in the region has been Native Americans and Scott said she only knows of about three people who had been hospitalized because of the illness. However, she said Nimiipuu Health, the tribal health service, isn’t necessarily notified if a tribal member is hospitalized.
Scott said the size and living arrangements of tribal families may lead to higher rates of spread within the community.
“I think tribes are somewhat unique in that fact we have intergenerational households. We have multiple generations living within a single household,” she said. “When there is a positive individual, it does get spread through the household, and we also have large families that are very close.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans contract the illness at 2.8 times the rate of the white population, are hospitalized at 5.3 times the rate and have a COVID-19 death rate that is 1.4 times higher.
The tribe has moved back to Phase 2 of Idaho’s reopening criteria, which limits gatherings to 10 people or fewer, and restricts nonessential travel. Scott said the restrictions were adopted in part because tribal communities have higher rates of the types of health conditions that can lead to more severe cases of COVID-19.
“There is a lot of autoimmune disease, diabetes, different respiratory disease — those are much more prevalent in Native Americans,” she said. “It’s why we acted so quickly.”
In Whitman County, college students returning to the Washington State University campus at Pullman are encountering community spread. Troy Henderson, director of Whitman County Public Health, said students who contract the illness in Pullman are being counted as Whitman County cases, even if they are from another county.
“It’s not accurate to think most of them are coming here with it,” he said. “I think most of these cases, they acquired it here amongst themselves. Most of the cases we are seeing now were community-acquired here in Pullman.”
Over the past seven days, Whitman County has reported 222 new cases.
Henderson said many students are returning to Pullman even though WSU is closed to in-person instruction because they have been unable to get out of housing leases. He also speculated that many of them are stir-crazy after months of pandemic restrictions and are engaging in unwise social gatherings.
“There is definitely a degree of COVID-19 fatigue,” he said.
Henderson is urging residents of the county to practice social distancing, wear masks, wash their hands frequently and get flu vaccinations before the fall flu season.
Six of the 22 new cases in Whitman County on Friday were people 19 years old or younger. Two are males and four are females. All of the remaining cases are people between 20 and 39, and include 13 women and three men.
Of the 19 cases in north central Idaho, 10 are in Nez Perce County, eight in Latah County and one in Clearwater County. The Clearwater County case is a man in his 60s. The Latah County cases involve one boy and one girl 10 or younger; one woman and four men in their 20s; and a man in his 60s. In Nez Perce County, the new cases include one girl and three boys 10 or younger; two women and one man in their 40s; and two women and one man in their 60s.
Barker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 208-848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.
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