After long enough, a change in conditions often are taken for granted or dismissed as not meaning much, and for some people the Covid-19 epidemic may fall into one category or the other. A significant number of people, having survived intact over the last half-year or so, may decide enough is enough: Is this still a big deal?
It’s an understandable question. But yes, it is a big deal.
The retired CEO of St. Luke’s Health, David Pate, who has been watching the situation closely, last week remarked, “I think we are a week into our third spike that is going to be bigger than either of the ones before it. … Every week we are opening up another school and we are putting more kids in classrooms.” And he appeared to be speaking very much with Idaho in mind.
You may be among those thinking that’s just fear mongering.
The Covid-19 epidemic, with us now since late last winter, clearly will be with us in the next one, and its impact is not slowing down. Historians of pandemics such as this, point out that they tend to come in waves - large bunches of cases followed by smaller numbers, then another large batch. That was the case with the Spanish flu epidemic a century ago, and it seems to be the case with Covid-19 now.
Idaho doesn’t often come to mind as a key pandemic state. It was relatively late to the game in picking up cases, and its population, small among the states, means its raw numbers are lighter than many others.
But Idaho’s ranking among the states ought to be sobering. In midsummer, the state ranked in the 40s (among the 50 states), the bottom in cases per capita and most other measures. Not any more. At present it has the 18th most cases per capita among the 50 states - above the national average (it had been far below) and worse than such long-running hotspot areas as Illinois and the District of Columbia. Idaho has had more cases per capita than New Jersey, and almost as many as New York. Chew on that.
Idaho has more than 8,000 cases more than Oregon, which has more than two and a half times the Gem State’s population.
But Idaho has been a national hotspot for months, and last week it showed signs of picking up again; several areas (especially in eastern Idaho and the Magic Valley) were breaking records for the most new cases in the last day or week. At this writing, Idaho is at 42,561 cases; two months ago, the state was at 21,114. Two months before that - just four months ago - the number was 2,839.
The deaths are climbing steadily. Almost three-quarters of Idaho’s counties now report at least one.
The pandemic is not limited in its spread, either.
Most of the attention goes to the bigger counties, like Ada with its 13,256 cases, or Twin Falls with 2,424, or Kootenai with 2,773. (Last spring such numbers would have sounded fantastical to many people.)
But every county has reported cases, and that may be most striking in some of Idaho’s smallest - by population - counties. The county with the fewest cases at 26, is Oneida. This is a county which came to the pandemic late, and contains only about 4,500 people, which translates to one case per 173 people. But that statistic is actually far from the worst. Owyhee County, as rugged and rural as you can get, has a case of Covid-19 for every 35 people (335 cases). Clark County, with a population under 900, has 35 cases - which means one for every 24 people.
When I think of counties like Camas or Clark or Owyhee or Oneida, I think of wide open spaces and people who already are naturally and almost extremely socially distanced. The idea that Covid-19 has landed significantly in these places comes as a shock.
But there it is.
I wrote months ago that this threat is real and should be taken seriously. I say it again. Just watch the numbers, if you can. Watch them grow.