Two local health agencies say they are able to keep up with the processing and tracking of new COVID-19 cases while nearby counties are struggling to stay atop a backlog of positive COVID-19 tests.

Panhandle Health District on Friday sent out a news release announcing it is experiencing a backlog of cases from July and August. The Panhandle Health District is a public health agency that serves Kootenai, Bonner, Shoshone, Boundary and Benewah counties in northern Idaho.

The district blamed this on a recent surge in cases, a lack of staff members and the demobilization of the National Guard.

“First, when our team is swamped with cases, we are unable to contact everyone who has tested positive for COVID-19,” said PHD Interim Director Don Duffy in the news release. “Second, we only report the number of cases processed that day, so the public doesn’t see the actual situation.”

On Aug. 20, the district reported 36 cases when it really had more than 900 cases left to process.

Panhandle Health District says it has mobilized staff away from their current responsibilities to help eliminate the backlog. It is also working to hire additional staff.

According to one official, the situation is not so dire for Public Health – Idaho North Central District, which oversees Latah, Nez Perce, Clearwater, Lewis and Idaho counties.

“PH-INCD is experiencing an increase in cases, however, at this time we are able to keep up with processing new cases and reporting accurate case counts on a daily basis,” said spokeswoman Tara Macke in an email.

Whitman County has also been able to keep up with its contact tracing duties while the number of cases continues to rise.

Whitman County Public Health Director Chris Skidmore said in an email that the county’s partnership with Washington State University has allowed it to process all of the cases it is seeing.

“They have been instrumental in helping us scale up and down as needed during this pandemic,” Skidmore wrote. “Lately we have had some staff shortages here at Whitman County Public Health and WSU has stepped in to help and we truly appreciate it.”

On Friday, 37 new cases were reported on the Palouse.

Twenty cases and one hospitalization related to COVID-19 were confirmed in Whitman County. There were no new deaths reported Friday.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 4,767 cases, 54 deaths and 144 hospitalizations in the county.

Public Health – Idaho North Central District reported 17 confirmed or probable cases in Latah County. No new deaths were reported.

The newest patients include one person between ages 5-12, seven people between ages 18-29, one person in their 30s, five in their 40s, one in their 50s and two in their 60s.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Latah County has seen 3,348 confirmed cases, 218 probable cases and 17 deaths.

Panhandle Health District reminded members of the public who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate for 10 days from when symptoms first appear, and for 24 hours with no fever. If people do not have symptoms, they are asked to self-isolate for 10 days after their positive test.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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