Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Could Blaine County Be a Beacon in Post-COVID World?
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Construction workers returned to work throughout the valley this week as Blaine County and other cities lifted restrictions that were stricter than the State of Idaho’s.
 
Friday, April 24, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

An emergency room doctor at St. Luke’s Wood River said Wednesday night that Blaine County has so far gotten through the coronavirus pandemic better than he would have thought.

Dr. Terry O’Connor, who is also medical director for Blaine County Ambulance District, told viewers at Blaine County’s Virtual Town Hall that the county has suffered less than a 1 percent fatality rate. He attributed it to the close-knit community and the community’s cooperation in sheltering in place and practicing physical distancing.

“We had the highest per capita rate of infections in the nation at one time,” he said. “Thankfully, we’re not No. 1 anymore.”

 
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Masks are now as essential as tool belt for construction workers.
 

Still, Blaine County ranks No. 8, meaning more needs to be done before physical distancing and other measures can be relaxed, he said.

O’Connor noted that the first confirmed cases started getting sick at the beginning of March. But health care workers were able to treat those who became sick without compromised care thanks to the ability to transport local patients to St. Luke’s hospitals in Boise and Twin Falls and thanks to the other resources and staff St. Luke’s Health Systems was able to provide. 

Anyone who needed hospital care got it, he said. Anyone who needed a ventilator or intensive care unit bed got it.

As of Wednesday night, 91 percent of the hospital system’s ventilators are available and half of the ICU is open for business.

“We’re still getting very sick individuals,” he said, noting that a young man in his 20s needed critical care just last week.

O’Connor said that 5 percent of the county’s residents have been tested for the virus. That’s better than the 1 percent tested nationally. But more needs to be done to make sure health officials are not missing developing hot spots.

An antibody test using random sampling that he and others have been involved in is taking awhile to get started because officials are trying to develop the best study they can, he said. All the pieces are in place, including supplies, testing facilities and staffing. All that’s left is final approval from the institutional review board.

The study will meet the gold standard for determining the prevalence of antibodies, he said. And it may contribute to several research studies, as well as the development of a vaccine.

Elective procedures at St. Luke’s are phasing back in, he added. But reopening won’t be like flipping a switch but slowly turning a dial.

“As you can imagine, there’s a big backlog. So, it will take time to catch up,” he said.

Contact tracing where health officials can use testing to notify and corral those who have been exposed to someone with coronavirus before it has a chance to spread will be the key to safely reopening the community to public gatherings, said Logan Hudson, Public Health Division administrator for South Central Public Health District.

Hudson said his agency is considering several contact tracing protocols, including an app that can be downloaded to a smart phone to allow users to share their contacts and the locations they frequent.

Hudson added that he doesn’t know if there’s a trigger plan to close down the county again should officials see a spike in cases.

“We’re going to see a wavy line. We’re going to see pockets of infection,” he said. “We don’t want to see cases going to 50, 60, 70 a day. That will mean things are not working.”

“If we do nothing, if we pretend we’re over this…if we don’t follow guidelines, we will invite the possibility of a wave to come,” added O’Connor.

TWO YEARS OF HARD WORK AND SACRIFICE

Property values will suffer, along with sales and wages, said Harry Griffith, director of Sun Valley Economic Development. And tourism this summer and next winter could look very different.

Unemployment claims, currently at 23 percent, will improve as builders, landscapers and others go back to work. But there’s no question that people will get fewer hours and lower wages for a while, he said. Already, $20 million have been lost due to cancelled events, and some charitable fundraisers have been cancelled, as well.

Sun Valley is blessed to have a large second homeowner’s population that will help the area recover while tourism is down, he said. “And we have a generous community helping the disadvantaged.”

People in high density areas who have been teleworking for months are going to decide they want to come work in places like this so that’s something we can tap into it, Griffith said.

“We’re looking at 24 months of hard work and sacrifice,” he said. “But, if we are good operators in a post-COVID environment, we can be a beacon, and that could play in our favor.”

CITIES WILL REACT

Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said most builders and landscapers returning to work this week as the county relaxed its restrictions are observing guidelines designed to prevent the transmission of the virus. The building inspector has been educating those who have not been in compliance.

“I don’t consider construction any more essential than other businesses. But the state considers it essential so that was a good place to begin (to relax restrictions),” he added. “Idaho has been listed as one of the states that may be able to open in the near future. When we do open up, we need to do it in a small and safe way.”

Greenberg said the county does not have enough law enforcement to make sure retailers and others observe safe practices. But he said he believes people won’t feel comfortable shopping in a store that is not observing safe procedures. And they will call authorities when they see something amiss.

“Cities will react and so will the county,” he added.

In response to a viewer’s question, Greenberg said that masks are not mandated, “But I think it’s probably a good idea (to wear them) as we go into the next phase.”


 

 

 

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