Covid testing in Idaho is ramping up.

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As of Jan. 4, the United States has now reached to 1 million COVID-19 cases thanks in large part to the omicron variant. Larger cities across the U.S. have seen severe spikes in cases and experts say, because of how quickly the virus can spread, Idaho will be following the same trend. According to Public Information Manager Niki Forbing-Orr, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) says we will see a surge here.

"Sometime in the next few weeks, if not sooner. The numbers are starting to tick up now, as you can see on the data dashboard," Forbing-Orr said.

The department's data dashboard showed that there were 15 cases of omicron found in Idaho and those numbers are expected to rise.

For the most part, the omicron variant is not causing as much severe illness or hospitalizations as previous variants. The big issues with this new variant surge locally is that, one, Idaho has a fairly low vaccination number (only 62% of the population is fully vaccinated) and that can cause more severe illness and hospitalization. And, two, omicron is easily transmissible and the many people who contract the disease will have to stay home and that may cause some local economic issues. For instance, over the holidays the airline industry was his hard by employees contracting COVID and flights were rescheduled across the nation.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "The omicron variant likely will spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and how easily omicron spreads compared to Delta remains unknown. CDC expects that anyone with omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms."

Looking ahead, people may have questions about where to get a test. Testing remains to be a bit of an issue across the nation and Idaho and although the CDC states that "testing is very important to help reduce the spread of COVID-19," no national or statewide infrastructure has been created to help facilitate people having access to tests. The IDHW doesn't manage testing availability.

Instead, it recommends that people contact pharmacies or go to the doctor. Unfortunately, there's been a shortage of at-home rapid tests available in the Treasure Valley recently due to demand and delivery issues. With that said, when people are unable to find tests at stores like Rite Aid or Walgreens that offer mostly free testing, places like Primary Health are also an option. 

The CEO of Primary Health, Dr. David Peterman, wrote in an email that the demand for testing has more than doubled from last month and that the rate of positivity is up to 26%. He also stated that the company has ordered thousands of additional tests and doesn't think they will run out. 

For people who have COVID symptoms or have been exposed the test is free, otherwise if people want a rapid test for things like travel, the cost is $125, covered by most insurance. If people have symptoms and need a test they shouldn't call, but go directly to the clinic and call from their car to make an appointment. Those without symptoms can enter the building with a mask.

Peterman wrote although Primary Health doesn't anticipate running out of tests, there is a concern that the omicron variant could overwhelm clinics. 

"Primary Health provides primary care services for immediate and chronic problems. We see more than 500,000 patient visits a year and we will continue to see all our patients," Peterman said. "Our concern with omicron is that demand will overwhelm primary care clinics throughout the valley. Similar to the airlines, Primary Health has a number of staff out with COVID symptoms or a positive test, despite the vast majority being vaccinated."

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