Randy Stapilus

Randy Stapilus

Randy Stapilus

We know where Idaho ranks among the states in the per capita number of most cases of COVID-19 (spoiler: above the national average, though a little further from the top than some might expect).

But what about Idaho’s counties? On a per-capita basis, so the large counties and small ones are fairly considered (and with a 2020 census conveniently able to help), how do they stack up for most pandemic cases and deaths?

It’s a mixed bag, and reading through lines among the 44 counties isn’t especially easy.

The caveat is this to begin with: Reporting is sometimes delayed, and sometimes more so in scattered areas. How cases are attributed to various counties can be a judgment call; on the daily lists of how many cases each county reports, the numbers sometimes have shifted downward (it happens, but not often) as a case is assigned either to another county or is designated as something non-COVID.

So which county currently has the most cases and deaths per capita?

The same one: Lewis County in north-central Idaho, small and rural, but reporting 696 cases among its population of 3,533 — or 19.7 percent, about a fifth of everyone in the county; and 17 deaths (meaning that just under half a percent of all the people in the county have died from COVID-19).

The numbers for other counties fall from there, but not drastically. The statewide average is 14.1 percent of all Idahoans reporting a case of COVID-19 so far (260,012 cases). Ten counties in addition to Lewis have per capita rates above the state average, and most of them are the largest counties in the state, such as Ada, Canyon, Kootenai, Bonneville,Twin Falls and Madison. (Twin Falls County ranked third, Canyon sixth, Madison seventh, Kootenai eighth.)

The local jurisdictions in those areas have been all over the map in how they have responded: whether to require masks, how well vaccination has gone, and so forth. The most logical conclusion is that COVID-19 is porous, spreading throughout areas, and spreading fastest and biggest where the population centers contain the most people. In that context, Ada County’s 10th-place ranking … could be worse. Little Lewis County’s high ranking seems a little out of place and could be accounted for largely via a few super-spreaders.

It also helps explain the counties at the bottom of the list, the ones with the fewest cases. Rural and remote Custer County has the lowest rate in the state, though the 343 cases it has reported means that even there, eight percent of the population has reported catching COVID-19. Just eight counties reported a percentage of infection under 10 percent, and nearly all of those are low-population or far away from metro areas (Camas, Clark, Boise, Lemhi, Bear Lake, Boundary).

The death rates per capita actually do look a little different. Some of the larger counties have death rates lower than state average (Bonneville, Ada, Madison). Among the big-population Idaho counties, Twin Falls has the highest death rate (with 183 deaths, a fifth of a percent of the county’s population); but it ranks 10th highest among all 44 counties. Nez Perce, Bingham, Canyon and Kootenai bunch closely behind, however.

You may wonder whether these rankings looked different some months ago, earlier in the pandemic. They do, to an extent.

In early May, the highest-ranking county per capita for cases was one of Idaho’s larger counties, Madison (though even then it did much better by setting a lower rate on deaths; the younger college student population at Rexburg may have helped in that regard).

But Madison was an odd shifter. Most of the counties ranking high or low last spring still are ranking somewhere around the same place now.

There is also this: The per-capita case rate is about twice as high at the top of the list — most-infested counties — as at the bottom. That means there’s a serious difference.

It also underscores what may be the larger point: This pandemic is everywhere, and it spreads quickly and widely. Idaho is not exempt, and neither are any of the parts of it.

Randy Stapilus is a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor and blogs at www.ridenbaugh.com. He can be reached at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com. His book “What Do You Mean by That?” can be found at ridenbaugh.com/whatdoyoumeanbythat and on Amazon.com.