Community transmission of COVID-19 identified in Madison County
In a news release on Monday, Eastern Idaho Public Health, which serves Bonneville, Clark, Custer, Fremont, Jefferson, Lemhi, Madison, and Teton counties, reported three new cases of COVID-19 in Madison County and identified two of the three cases were acquired through community transmission.
Neither Teton Valley Health or Eastern Idaho Public Health have confirmed community spread through COVID-19 testing in Teton County, Idaho as of Tuesday morning, March 31. But, on Wednesday, Chief of Staff for Teton Valley Health Dr. Erin Prissel told the Teton Valley News that based on what she is seeing, she can make an educated assumption that community spread is occurring in Teton County, Idaho.
“The cat is out of the bag and our community was exposed and every person counts,” Prissel said of working to flatten the curve and self-isolate last Wednesday.
Community transmission can be confirmed through greater testing and investigation into each case. But there is not enough testing kits available and TVH CEO does not wish to release current testing numbers.
Community transmission means the spread of illness for which the source of the infection is unknown and cannot be connected to travel or close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19.
Also on Monday, private contractors worked to set up 55 additional cots in the LDS Church in Driggs next to the hospital along with medical supplies and masks in anticipation of COVID-19 cases. The hospital has also put out a call for volunteer medical staff and is actively fundraising in the hopes of purchasing 10,000 COVID-19 tests.
On Monday, Teton County, Idaho released a press release that read, "Doctors have reported community spread in Teton County, ID and Teton County WY." Teton Valley Health CEO Keith Gnagey told the Teton Valley News Monday night that it is the opinion of TVH that community spread is occurring, but did not have the testing to confirm that was the case. Gnagey has told the Teton Valley News repeatedly that he is not releasing COVID-19 testing information as it relates to Teton Valley Health.
Gnagey wrote in an email Saturday to the TVN, "Unfortunately, given the small number of people being tested under the CDC and EIPH rules, and the long and sometimes unknown times to get results from commercial labs, the number of tests is not a good indicator of COVID activity in the valley. Using those testing numbers to plan would be ill advised. What we are concerned about is the increasing number of respiratory cases being seen in the (emergency department), that is probably more indicative of COVID in the valley than any testing numbers."
Gnagey said that he couldn't release emergency department numbers because of HIPPA. Eastern Idaho Public Health told the TVN that they have not had time to gather a clear picture of respiratory cases in the region at this time.
"My business has closed our doors (and only open to drive-thru and curbside service) and we're trying to make sure people are keeping safe, but we need to know what this community spread is based on," said Sally Myler, pharmacist and co-owner of Corner and Victor Drug on Tuesday. "I would call on Teton Valley Health to be more transparent with their numbers or to help the community understand the decision to establish community spread despite three cases that were not community spread."
She continued, "If we are asking people to do hard things we need to back that up with information."
In a follow up to the county's press release questioning how community spread has been determined in Teton County, Commissioner Chair Cindy Riegel said, "Define 'community.' If you include Jackson, it’s spreading in our community. Therefore we have community spread."
"The metrics we use to assess the spread and severity of COVID will change over the course of the pandemic," said Gnagey. "We will continue to let everyone know if we see increases/ decreases and our best estimates on what is going to happen. Our judgement is based on multiple factors and we are dealing a new illness. Trying to use a single number to inform about the severity or spread of the illness is unwise. The state continues to track and report out statewide totals and updates them daily."
Still, Myler added, "If we have community spread, does that place us in a different category for availability to test kits? When will be able to test more people in the community to establish what is truly happening in our community?"
Eastern Idaho Public Health added in the Monday press release, "Due to limited testing supplies nationwide, testing for COVID-19 has been prioritized for specific populations. This, coupled with community transmission of COVID-19, makes it even more urgent than ever to follow the recommendations of public health."
These three new cases bring the total COVID-19 case count in EIPH’s region to 13 as of March 30. In Teton County, EIPH is counting two confirmed cases . A third positive test is not being counted toward the county's overall count because the patient was from out of the state.
On March 25, Teton County, Wyoming confirmed their first cases of community spread in Jackson through COVID-19 testing, according to the Jackson Hole News and Guide.
EIPH recommendations include:
Practicing social-distancing (maintaining at least 6 feet between individuals), avoiding crowds of any number, and eliminating all non-essential travel, as detailed in the order.
Staying home when sick even if your symptoms are mild. A symptom monitoring checklist and Decision Tree was recently developed to help people and/or employers determine what they should do if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been primarily or secondarily exposed to a person with COVID-19 symptoms. A copy of these documents can be found here: www.EIPH.Idaho.gov. This monitoring tool can be used daily by everyone to assess their health during this pandemic.
Covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces, washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
Individuals at an increased risk of severe illness (older adults and people with underlying health conditions) should take extra precautions to avoid exposure to COVID-19.
For questions, guidance, and information about COVID-19, please visit EIPH’s website at www.EIPH.Idaho.gov. You can also follow us on Facebook at @EIPH.Idaho.
We also have a hotline number that can be reached by calling 208-522-0310 or 855-533-3160 (toll free). The hotline is active Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has also started a statewide hotline. It can be reached by calling 888-330-3010, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.