Drive-thru COVID Testing

Sydney Rogers, a specimen collector and processor, prepares to give a COVID-19 test to a patient at the drive-thru testing site on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020, at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital.

By Wednesday night, Eastern Idaho Public Health had already reported 15 new COVID-19 deaths, the most ever reported in a single week, according to the Post Register’s tracking of public health data. That news comes as the region’s rate of new cases is at a record high.

The health district confirmed five more COVID-19 deaths, spokeswoman Mimi Taylor said in an email to reporters on Wednesday afternoon. It reported six new deaths Tuesday and four new deaths Monday. Previously, the highest amount reported in a single week was 13 in the last week of October. Four of Wednesday’s deaths were in Jefferson County, while one was in Lemhi County.

As of Tuesday night, eastern Idaho’s eight counties added an average of roughly 208 new coronavirus cases each day over the past week — a record that’s been continually set and broken since early October. Last Tuesday, the region’s daily case average for the prior week was 191.

“We think the spread of the virus is moving at an alarming rate,” Taylor said in a text message.

Because it takes time for infected people to become gravely ill, waves of deaths trail behind rising new coronavirus hospitalizations and cases, experts say. All three key COVID-19 metrics are on the rise locally, which experts recently said signals a deadly winter as hospitals in Idaho scramble to cope with staffing shortages and waves of new virus patients.

“The hospitalizations are stressing our hospitals and the deaths are fracturing our families,” Eastern Idaho Public Health wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “Please help us get this under control by following the simple public health guidelines we have stressed since the spring.”

Idaho Falls Community Hospital administrator Casey Jackman said in a video on Wednesday that the hospital is “to a point where we’re just up against it. We don’t have enough staff to continue to see more and more people need help.”

“We’ve been lucky so far, we haven’t had to send anyone away. And we’re gonna do what we can to keep maintaining that,” Jackman said. But nurses are in short supply nationwide, he noted. And he said nurses at his hospital are working extra. “It’s just incredibly hard on them and their families.”

He called upon eastern Idahoans to wear masks, socially distance and heed other public health guidance that are proven to slow the spread.

“We’re trying to react on facts not fear. This is real,” Jackman said. “People are not only being affected because they’re really sick, but they’re being affected because they’re losing family members. I know everybody hates the masks. I hate the masks. They’re not that much fun to wear. But this isn’t about being fun. This is about doing the right thing.”

Eastern Idaho’s health board will meet at 7 a.m. Thursday. Officials plan to hear from nearby hospitals, talk about vaccine developments and vote on new restrictions for Custer County.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.