Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Blaine County Sees Red as COVID Cases Soar
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Denis Cote, Teresa Beahen Lipman and others wore masks and gloves and distanced as much as possible while handing out lunches to veterans on Wednesday.
   
Friday, November 13, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg is nervously watching hospitals throughout the region as the number of coronavirus infections soars in his county and throughout Idaho.

St. Luke’s Wood River continues to have some wiggle room. But the ability to transfer patients out of the area for critical care is fast disappearing.

“My biggest concern is how hospitals in the Magic Valley and Utah are doing. If they’re full, it’s irrelevant how well we’re doing because there’s no place to send patients who need critical case. So, it’s best to take care of yourself, keep the numbers low so we don’t have to transport out of the area,” he said.

St. Luke’s Magic Valley was forced to divert ICU patients yet again this week because it was bursting at the seams with 75 COVID-19 patients. That’s about half of the hospital’s patients. The hospital had already stopped doing elective surgeries in October and is sending most of its pediatric patients to St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital in Boise to free up beds.

But finding a space for patients it couldn’t take wasn’t easy.

St. Luke’s Boise was able to take a few. But it was having to turn some away, including patients from a hospital in Elko, Nev.

The VA hospital in Boise is not only full but it has 60 staff workers out because they tested positive or are quarantining or because they’re helping take care of an outbreak at the VA Nursing Home.

And Utah hospitals are stretched to the brink, with 4,000 new cases one day this week shattering the old single-day record by a thousand and prompting Gov. Gary Herbert to impose a two-week state of emergency mandating masks and restricting gatherings.

Against that backdrop Blaine County’s level of risk remained red, or critical, as it has for several weeks when the county’s new COVID dashboard came out Thursday.

The positivity rate for Blaine County from Nov. 1 through 7 was 11 percent, down from 13.58 percent the previous week. But it is still above the 5 percent rate that allows health officials to breathe easier.

Blaine County’s new cases per 100,000 residents based on a seven-day average soared to 49.6—well above the 33.5 new cases per 100,000 residents during the previous week.

Those between the ages of 18 and 29 recorded the most cases with 15. But those in older age groups weren’t far behind. Those between 50 and 59 tallied 13 cases; 60 and 69, 12; 30 and 39, 11, and 40 and 49, 10.

Eight 14-to-17-year-olds tested positive; six, 70 and older, and four, 11-13-year-olds.

The state is setting up a program to have first responders and paramedics do home health checks to check oxygen levels of those with COVID and who remain outside the hospital.

But the surge is hampering contact tracing to find and quarantine close contacts of someone who’s tested positive before those contacts have a chance to infect others.

The surge in cases across southern Idaho is being felt. One local man’s back surgery was postponed when his Boise surgeon caught COVID. And Company of Fools announced Thursday that it was pushing back its staged reading of “The Thanksgiving Play” to Friday and Saturday, Nov. 27-28, because of one cast member’s proximity to a person with COVID.

Greenburg said he doesn’t know whether Hailey and Bellevue continue to be the hot spots in the valley.

Outbreaks have taken place in a Bellevue nursing home and sent Upper School students at Sun Valley Community School back to online learning. Even Carey now has students and staff out due to COVID.

The Blaine County School District currently has 13 students out with COVID—five at Wood River High School, three each at Wood River Middle School and Silver Creek High and two at Carey. There are 119 students in quarantine. The most—32—are at Carey School, followed by 25 at Wood River Middle School.

Currently one staff member at Wood River Middle School and one at Carey are out with COVID; 20 staff members are in quarantine.

Greenberg said many of Blaine County’s cases involve someone who was infected in a private social gathering and spread it to their family.

“It’s not inconceivable that all 26 cases we got one day this week could have involved just four or five families. Someone in the family gets it and spreads it to family members,” he said.

Businesses do not want to shut down and, at this point, government officials have no intention of shutting them down, Greenberg said. While the county gets a huge influx of workers from Twin Falls and surrounding counties, the county’s building inspector says construction workers are  following mask, distancing and hand washing requirements.

“This is a public health crisis and that’s how we need to view it,” he said. “We learned this week from the CDC that masks not only protect others but they protect the wearer. We need to do all the things we did before, aside from shutting down. We need to make sure kids are not congregating after school. We need to observe rules in private gatherings.”

THE SURGE CONTINUES

Blaine County reported 18 new cases on Thursday for a total of 1,054 official cases since counting began in March.

Idaho reported 1,158 new cases on Thursday—a welcome improvement after a handful of days with more than 1,600 cases. It has 78,279 cases total. Sixteen more Idahoans died Thursday for a total of 749 deaths.

The United States, meanwhile, set a record new 153,496 cases in a single day on Thursday as the nation keeps smashing its own records.

TREASURE VALLEY SCHOOLS PULL BACK:

Students at Northwest Nazarene University have moved back to online instruction after the Nampa college issued a stay-in-place directive in response to rising coronavirus cases there. Students are being asked to stay in their dorms or apartments with the exception of getting meals or outdoor exercise. Visitors are being restricted and every person living or working on campus will participate in daily screenings.

Thirty-five students have been diagnosed since Nov. 3, most of them identified through a campus-wide asymptomatic weekly saliva screening.

School nurses in the Boise School District have urged a return to online learning given the number of positive case and students in quarantine.

BUSINESSMEN BEG IDAHOANS TO GET SERIOUS

More than 70 Idaho business leaders, including Dodds Hayden whose Hayden Beverage does a lot of business in the Wood River Valley, have published an open letter to Idahoans begging them to wear masks, distance, wash hands and avoid crowds to contain the “invisible killer” and keep businesses and schools open.

“Those who oppose taking simple precautions to contain this deadly virus say they infringe on their freedoms and violate the Idaho Constitution,” the letter said. “As business leaders, we believe strongly in personal freedom, but we also realize that with freedom comes personal responsibility.”

The letter noted that Idaho has a three to four times higher positivity testing rate of neighboring states and more deaths than Utah, even though that state has twice the population. It also noted that Idaho has 19,000 more people infected than Oregon and twice the number of deaths than Oregon, even though Oregon has more than double the population.

With 647 deaths (at the time the letter was written) Idaho has more deaths than South Korea (464), Norway (282), New Zealand (25) and Finland (358), even though those countries have millions more citizens than Idaho, the business men added.

Now the state has recorded 749 deaths just over a week later.

Not everyone is listening, however. Both the Twin Falls and Jerome city councils have declined to mandate face masks. Two of those in the audience at the Jerome hearing suggested instead that health officials should educate people to build up their immune systems, instead of pushing masks.

HEALTH OFFICIALS ASK FOR A STATEWIDE MANDATE

The state’s medical disaster committee, which wrote Idaho’s plan to ration care should it become necessary, has asked Gov. Brad Little to impose a statewide mask mandate.

The providers who sit on the State of Idaho Disaster Medical Advisory Committee work at facilities throughout the state, including St. Luke’s Health System, Saint Alphonsus Health System, the Boise VA Medical Center, Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, Portneuf Regional Medical Center and Kootenai Health in North Idaho.

They wrote Idaho’s Crisis Standards of Care guidelines, which outline how to allocate ICU beds, ventilators and dialysis machines while triaging and transferring patients when resources become scarce.

Hospitals throughout the state are overwhelmed, they said, and staff shortages and the number of trained personnel to care for an increased number of patients can’t be easily expanded.

“We therefore are writing to implore you to help us avoid a full statewide crisis and require a statewide mask mandate (as) “the only hope of avoiding disaster,” they wrote.


 

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