State leaders continue to implore more Idahoans to get vaccinated amid a precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases across the state.

On Thursday, Gov. Brad Little held a news conference to ask Idahoans to get vaccinated to keep residents safe, keep the economy running and prepare for the coming school year.

“Our main defense in ensuring the new school year is entirely in person, free from outbreaks and quarantines, is the COVID-19 vaccine,” Little said.

Just this week, the state added nearly 4,000 new COVID-19 cases, pushing the statewide seven-day moving average of new cases to 566 — a level unseen since January. The state’s test positivity rate, which is often used by health officials to measure community spread, rose to 12.3% the week of Aug. 1. That rate hasn’t been so high since the last week of December, when cases were peaking in Idaho.

Experts generally consider a positivity rate of 5% or less to demonstrate control over the virus spread.

As of Aug. 11, there were 322 patients at Idaho hospitals with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, and there were 108 COVID patients in an ICU. Two weeks earlier, there were 170 hospitalized patients and 49 ICU patients. Since last week, the state recorded more than 400 new COVID-19 cases at long-term care facilities.

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The steep rise in cases and hospitalizations, health officials say, is largely due to the spread of the delta variant, which is highly contagious and can readily spread, even among the vaccinated population.

But on Thursday, Little stressed that the vaccines overwhelmingly protect people from severe illness and hospitalization, according to data from the Department of Health and Welfare. Since Jan. 1, 98.9% of cases, 98.6% of hospitalizations and 98.7% of deaths have been among people who were not vaccinated.

“The risk of death and serious injury is extremely low. By comparison, the risk of death or hospitalization from the COVID-19 disease is much, much higher, and it’s growing,” Little said.

Only 46.8% of Idahoans 12 and older are fully vaccinated, according to Health and Welfare, which is significantly lower than the nationwide average of 59%.

The state recorded 28 new deaths related to COVID-19 this week, for a total of 2,245 since the pandemic began.

Ada County, the state’s most populous county, saw more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases this week, including 417 the past two days. Canyon County registered 156 new cases Friday and more than 660 for the week. However, neither of those counties is in the top five for seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 population. (See below.)

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On Friday, Health and Welfare endorsed the Food and Drug Administration’s recent authorization of an extra dose of COVID-19 vaccine for Americans with “weakened immune systems,” according to a release.

To date, there have been 9,353 hospitalizations and 1,553 admissions to the ICU, and 11,365 health care workers who have been infected.

Long-term care update

As of Friday, Health and Welfare reported 2,404 active COVID-19 cases associated with 61 long-term care facilities, which is higher than last week’s 1,963 cases. There are 263 facilities with resolved outbreaks.

To date, 814 people from 182 facilities have died from COVID-19-related causes — three more than were reported last week. Long-term care residents and staff account for about 36% of COVID-related deaths.

Weekly snapshot

Vaccine doses administered in Idaho: 1,425,866, according to Health and Welfare. Of those, 705,427 people have been fully vaccinated, which accounts for 46.8% of Idahoans age 12 and older.

Test positivity rate: Out of the 24,374 COVID-19 tests conducted for the week of Aug. 1-7, 12.3% came back positive.

Counties with highest current seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 population, per Health and Welfare: Clearwater: 65.3, Nez Perce: 64.7, Twin Falls 56.6, Shoshone 49.9, Kootenai 42.5.