First COVID-19 case announced in Idaho

Brandon Atkins, of Central District Health, speaks to members of the media about the state’s first confirmed case of coronavirus during a press conference at the Idaho State Capitol, Friday, March 13, 2020.

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Contact tracing — the practice of tracking down where a person has been in the past week or so before they tested positive for COVID-19, and who they had been in close proximity to — has been heralded by public health officials as a key step to reopening the U.S. economy, writes Idaho Press reporter Tommy Simmons. The idea is to find people who have been exposed to the new coronavirus and telling them, so they can self-isolate and prevent the spread of disease.

Gov. Brad Little announced earlier this week Idaho will invest $7 million from the federal CARES Act to expand its contact-tracing capabilities, with plans to employ 255 contact tracers statewide.

But the process has aroused some suspicion among opponents of the state's response to the pandemic. Rep. Healther Scott, R-Blanchard, who last month compared Gov. Brad Little's stay-home order to Nazi Germany, took aim at his announcement in a Facebook post last week, urging Idahoans to "know your rights or lose them." Her post touches a nerve of uncertainty and skepticism seen nationwide about the idea of a government entity tracing one's recent movements.

Scott did not return a call Thursday requesting comment.

Boise State University political scientist Charles Hunt speculated that if people are concerned about contact tracing, it might, in part, be because they are unfamiliar with epidemiology and viruses, and how they work. Just the phrase — contact tracing — is new to many Americans, said Steve Utych, another political science professor at Boise State.

Simmons explains the process and its challenges; you can read his full story here at idahopress.com, or pick up today's Sunday/Monday edition of the Idaho Press; it's on the front page.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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