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Doctor Issues Warning About COVID Spike
Friday, February 5, 2021



Don’t let the current decrease in coronavirus cases in Idaho fool you.

Idahoans are likely in for a rude awakening come March or April when the COVID variants invade the state, Dr. David Pate said Thursday.

“Last year we didn’t have a lot of preview of coming attractions when the pandemic hit. We’ve had a preview of coming attractions from the U.K. and other countries. When the (more transmissible) variants arrive, our cases are going to shoot up,” he said.

Pate, former CEO and president of St. Luke’s Health Systems and Dr. Tommy Ahlquist, co-founder of Crush the Curve Idaho, fielded questions about the pandemic and vaccines in a virtual Q&A organized by The Idaho Statesman.

The Idaho legislature is not helping, they said. It’s not just that legislators aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in their districts, Pate said.

“They’re actually trying to figure out ways to make it worse,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out how to take away the (COVID) Emergency Declaration, which would hurt Idaho. Then, they say ‘You know what the answer is to this pandemic? Let’s get rid of the restrictions.’ I do hope voters will hold these legislators accountable.”

Both Pate and Ahlquist said that it makes no sense for Idahoans to have to keep checking lists to see if there’s any vaccine available in their area.

Ahlquist said his Crush the Curve helped Texas and Massachusetts match lab capacity with patients needing COVID tests in the early days of the pandemic. Now it’s working with Massachusetts on an auto-email system that will tell Massachusetts residents where the vaccine is available.

“We call providers throughout the state every day to figure out who has vaccine,” he said. “I don’t understand why, with eight months to go, we didn’t know we were going to overwhelm every system with calls. I feel bad for people. We have people who are hurting. There have been people waiting for this vaccine for eight months. They’re so anxious and they need the vaccine. I talk to them and they say, ‘Please help me. What do I do?’

“There is no shortage of effort and desire,” he added. “But we got caught flat footed as the pandemic started as a state, as a country. We knew the vaccine was coming. I would have hoped we would have been more prepared.”

Ahlquist gave the response to the pandemic a D-minus grade.

“The federal response to coronavirus has been pathetic. I don’t know how it could have been worse. And who suffers are the people,” he said. “We can’t make any more excuses. Let’s come together and figure out solutions.”

Pate praised the efforts of health care providers in the state, including St. Luke’s, Saint Alphonsus and Primary Health whom, he said, have “taken on a herculean task, doing it not just for patients.”

He traced much of what hasn’t gone well to the federal government. Operation Warp Speed should have done more to help the states, he said. States have had to react when they learn the vaccine they had planned for during a given week has changed. And there were missed opportunities, including that of the Trump administration passing up opportunity to buy 100 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

“The more vaccine you use, the more you’re going to be able to apply for,” Ahlquist said. “So, let’s get more vaccine doses in arms. If we get our house in order and use this vaccine, I think we’ll see more.”

Ahlquist said he would have prioritized people with health risk above some of the other groups that have already become eligible for the vaccine.

Pate said he could think of three objectives in determining who gets the vaccine first:

  • First, decreasing the disease burden, reducing hospitalizations and pressure on the health care system. To do that you would vaccinate those over 60 first and younger people with health risks.
  • Second, you could focus on decreasing transmission or the spread of the disease. To do that you would prioritize those between the ages of 20 and 40 because they seem to be driving the spread.
  • Third, prioritize the people you depend on, such as health care workers, grocery workers, police, fire and EMS.

“All three of those have merit,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of elderly friends say, ‘I’m locked up in my house and I’m watching people half my age get vaccinated.’ We have to learn from this pandemic and I hope when this is over we do a very deep dive on what do we need to differently next time.”

Pate said that there’s no doubt that vaccine hesitancy is a problem, in part because there hasn’t been a lot of effective messaging provided to the states by federal government.

But, he said, it won’t be as bad as a lot of people are projecting. Some hesitancy is from people who just want to wait to see how the vaccine is working with others. Others will likely scramble to get one if the variants do indeed send cases skyrocketing again.

“Public health has to be based on trust and science,” he said. “You need leadership. And with leadership comes role modeling, and we’ve had abysmal leadership at federal level and in our legislature. Here we are a year into the pandemic and our legislature can’t wear masks in the Capitol.

“When you do that you get lots of transmission. And, when you get lots of transmission, you get variants.”

Alhquist said the pushback against following recommendations like wearing masks to keep businesses open has set him back on his heels.

For the first time, we have “patients” looking back and saying, “You’re wrong,” he said. People who have vaccine hesitancy have been told lies, he added.

“There’s so much misinformation on the internet and phonies and frauds pushing bad information. We’re up against a tsunami of bad information.”

Despite the slow rollout of vaccines in Idaho, Idahoans need to remain optimistic, Pate said. The Biden administration just purchased 200 million more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will likely be reviewed the end of this month and is expected to get emergency use authorization so it can be released in March.

And more children are being enrolled in vaccine trials.

“Kids make up 23.6 percent of our state’s population so we need them to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity,” he added.


To date 91,575 Idahoans have received at least one dose of vaccine; 29,012 have received two. So far, 2,510 people have received at least one dose in Blaine County.


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