Panhandle Health District (PHD), Bonner General Health (BGH), and Kootenai Health are working to offer guidance in these confusing COVID-19 times. North Idaho continues to see a rise in cases as businesses are opening and many of us are relaxing into summer.

However, this is not the time to let our guard down.

COVID-19 cases are spiking throughout our area and we are seeing community transmission in Kootenai, Bonner and Benewah counties. The virus has not let up and we can’t either.

Contract tracing has shown that many of the new cases are a result of social settings where no or very few precautions are being taken. The good news is we know what slows the spread; masking, physical distancing and hand washing work.

Recent studies of masking efforts in New York, Wuhan and Italy show that wearing masks in public is the best way to lower community transmission rates when everyone participates.

“The guidance continues to remain the same in combating this virus,” said Panhandle Health Director Lora Whalen. “Everyone who can, should be wearing a cloth face covering when out in public. Keeping a 6-foot distance between yourself and others is also very important. Lastly, hand washing and sanitizing high touch surfaces is recommended.”

“Earlier this year we saw how social distancing and masking in public helped slow the virus spread so our local health care system was not overwhelmed in the first wave of COVID-19,” said Karen Cabell, D.O., Chief Physician Executive at Kootenai Health. “We are seeing a sharp increase in cases with lifted restrictions, more in the first three weeks of June than we had in March through May combined. We all want to keep our businesses open, safely go back to work, and have adequate hospital capacity for a surge of COVID – 19 patients needing care. We are asking everyone in our community to not let their guard down and to continue to practice the proven measures to fight COVID-19. Wear a mask in public, follow social distancing guidelines, stay home if you are sick, and wash your hands frequently.”

As more people are exposed to someone with COVID-19, more people are seeking testing. A common misconception is that if you had close contact to a person with COVID-19, then you should immediately be tested.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that. If you have had close contact with a positive case, you should begin to self-isolate from the general public and especially high-risk individuals. Stay home other than to seek medical treatment. If you do leave your home, wear a mask to prevent potential spread.

“It is important not to test too soon,” said Erin Binnall, Community Development Manager/Public Information Officer for Bonner General Health. “The incubation period for COVID-19 after exposure is approximately three to five days, and possibly up to 14 days. If you test too soon after exposure, you may test negative, giving you a false sense of relief. Your doctor can help you know the right time to be tested.”

Contact tracing is being conducted for each positive case through PHD. Through the process of contact tracing, PHD notifies individuals who may have been exposed to the virus.

This process is completely voluntary and confidential. We all need to work together with health districts to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing and self-isolating for people with COVID-19 and their close contacts are critical to help slow transmission of COVID-19 in our communities.

COVID-19 testing is available in our area and we encourage anyone who needs to be tested to call their primary care provider or PHD’s hotline.

According to the CDC, people with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.

Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

“We have learned a lot about COVID-19, how it spreads, and the measures needed to keep people safe,” said Dr. Cabell. “At Kootenai Health we are taking every precaution so we can protect patients and staff from the spread of COVID-19 and also continue to provide needed care for our community.”

For more information regarding COVID-19, visit or call the Panhandle Health District Hotline between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 877-415-5225.

(1) comment


As someone who takes care of a 96 year old parent it would sure be nice to see everyone start wearing masks while out and about. It always amazes me to see most of the employees of the major businesses here in Bonners Ferry not wearing masks. I do see it changing, but, it seems to be a slow process.

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