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COVID cases on the rise

What for COVID?

Contrary to popular belief across northern Idaho, COVID-19 is not a thing of the past. Cases are rising in Kootenai County, said Jeff Weigel, an epidemiologist with the Panhandle Health District.

“The majority of cases now concern the omicron BA.5 variant,” says Weigel. “This variant is particularly virulent and highly transmissible and contagious, but the severity of the disease is much less than previous variants. Hospitalizations and deaths from the BA.5 strain are far fewer than a year ago.”

The positivity rate in the Panhandle Health District was 18.15% as of Saturday, August 6th. The health district has been reporting between 200 and 400 cases a week for over a month. As of Thursday, Kootenai Health had 22 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

“We suspect that the actual case numbers of infections are much higher than those reported,” said Weigel. “By monitoring wastewater, we can determine what is happening to the population. The state recently added the wastewater monitoring data to its website so the public can now follow it too.”

BA.5 symptoms include fever, upper respiratory tract infection, pulmonary congestion, muscle pain, and feeling unwell or lack of energy. According to the CDC, these symptoms can last anywhere from five to 10 days. If you do become infected, health officials recommend resting in isolation, hydrating and monitoring your symptoms. People should contact their doctor if symptoms don’t go away, said Dr. Anthony Rehil-Crest, Chief Clinical Officer of Heritage Health.

“We’re seeing more patients with COVID,” Rehil-Crest said. “COVID is not over yet and it can severely affect people with pre-existing conditions such as obesity and diabetes. It has to be taken seriously. I recommend following the CDC vaccination recommendations. The good news is that there are some very good medicines available for people who are infected. These drugs are very effective in treating the coronavirus.”

People previously infected or vaccinated with COVID-19 can still get BA.5 variant. A new booster shot targeting the BA.5 variant is expected to be released in the fall, health officials say. Existing vaccines still offer protection against the BA.5 variant.

“Unfortunately, we will be living with COVID for the foreseeable future and dealing with it in a similar way to how we prevent the spread of the flu,” Weigel said. “This virus keeps changing and mutating.”

One of the problems facing the medical community is that people are not getting tested, non-reportable home tests are more common and available, or they don’t report the results of their home tests if they get sick or think they will Corona is nothing more than a cold. Others believe COVID can be prevented through diet and exercise.

It can’t.

“If you stay healthy and do the right things, it can relieve your symptoms, but I can’t guarantee that,” Rehil-Crest said. “Nor does it take into account other underlying medical conditions that may be affected by contracting the coronavirus. It won’t stop you from passing the infection on to a loved one or close friend.”

Katherine Hoyer, public affairs officer for the Panhandle Health District, said fighting misinformation is an ongoing struggle.

“We’re always available to answer questions and offer advice,” she said. “Our employees understand and want to respond to questions in order to provide the public with the best possible recommendations.”

The best defenses against the spread of COVID are vaccines and following CDC guidelines for social distancing and wearing appropriate face coverings.

“The vaccine protects you and helps relieve symptoms,” Rehil-Crest said. “We still recommend people to get vaccinated and boosted. People with compromised immune systems and other underlying health problems are at risk of getting sick.”

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Marc Stewart is employed as a content strategist at Heritage Health in Coeur d’Alene.

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