IDAHO FALLS — Idaho Bureau of Laboratories Director Christopher Ball has said concerning coronavirus variants are likely spreading across the state, despite efforts to vaccinate residents.

COVID-19 vaccines currently being distributed are believed to be effective against the strains; however, the continued spread intensifies pressure to speed up the vaccination efforts, the Post Register reported this week.

“We are in a race against the variants with our vaccination program,” said Kathryn Turner, the state’s deputy public health researcher. “Every single time that virus is transmitted, it has a chance to mutate. So, the faster we get people vaccinated, the better off we’ll be, the fewer variants we’ll have.”

Health officials have said variants accounted for four of the more than 100 residents who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks after receiving their final vaccines. Turner said cases where people contract the virus after being fully vaccinated are rare, accounting for less than 0.03 percent of about 320,000 fully vaccinated residents.

Data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reveals 95 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been identified as caused by variants of concern. But Ball said official state variant counts don’t show the whole picture.

Ball said at state-run labs in Idaho, coronavirus test samples suspected to be variants have undergone genomic sequencing. Medical workers flag samples through clinical information that suggests someone caught a more infectious or severe strain, or through test sample information that shows signs of a variant.

“It appears that for every region of the state, we’ve detected both the U.K. variant” and two variants first identified in California, Ball said. “We feel fairly comfortable based on the information that we have right now that those two variants of concern are probably circulating in most communities throughout the state.”

More than 180,000 residents have contracted the virus and 1,972 have died, health officials said. Around 320,000 people are fully vaccinated in the state, while some 172,000 have received at least one vaccine dose.

Updates for the Palouse

Whitman County reported 16 new positive COVID-19 cases Thursday while Latah County reported four cases.

Whitman County’s total number of cases is now at 3,984. No new deaths or hospitalizations were reported. There have been 46 total deaths and 97 total hospitalizations, to date, because of the virus.

All of Latah County’s four cases were people between ages 18-29. There have been a total of 2,801 confirmed cases, 157 probable cases and nine total deaths, to date. The latest death was reported Wednesday, a woman in her 50s.

Gritman Medical Center is reporting three new COVID-19 hospitalizations since last week. There have been 44 hospitalizations, to date.

The hospital also confirmed 35 positive tests in the past seven days. This is a 3.23 percent positivity rate.

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories is offering COVID-19 vaccine clinics Saturday and next weekend at their Pullman and Lewiston locations. Call (509) 592-4784 or visit selinc.com/mktg/133794 to sign up for an appointment.

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