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Infections Among Children Skyrocketing
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Thursday, September 30, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

COVID infections among Idaho children are skyrocketing, reaching record levels, according to Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner.

Children now make up one in five COVID cases statewide—much higher than last year. Some 1,700 cases of children with COVID were reported last week alone, Turner said.

“The weekly number of cases identified among Idahoans less than 18 years of age has doubled since mid-August,” Turner told reporters at a virtual COVID briefing held by the Department of Health and Welfare Tuesday afternoon.

Children typically don’t get as sick as adults but they pose a large risk to the community because of their potential to spread the infection to adults who might then wind up in the ICU. And the risk for children is not zero, said Turner. Thirty-one Idaho children have developed COVID-related MIS-C, which causes inflammation to heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.

As of Tuesday, there were a record 774 COVID patients in the hospital—206 of them in ICUs, according to Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen. And the number of long-term care centers that have residents with COVID has gone from 14 in July to 140.

“We expect these numbers to continue to increase. We do not see where this is going to turn around just yet,” said a somber Jeppesen.

According to a model compiled by the Department of Health and Welfare, the state could see as many as 1,900 hospitalizations in a single week by the end of November if nothing is done to stem the tide. It could see as many as 305 deaths in a single week, the model projects—twice the 140 new COVID-related deaths it saw during the week of Sept. 20.

Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch recounted how a relative of hers—a health care worker—helped zip an unvaccinated patient into a body bag.

“That’s a task that too many of our health care workers are having to do right now,” she said.

Shaw-Tulloch teared up as she described how she looked at all the names of the 2,790 Idahoans who have died of COVID to honor and humanize them. (Health and Welfare reported 40 additional cases  three hours later, bringing Idaho’s official death toll to 2,830.) Those who have succumbed to the virus are getting younger and are mostly unvaccinated, she said.

“I worry every single day about the potential of seeing a child’s death notice because they were too young to get a vaccine or had underlying health conditions that prevented them from getting a vaccine,” she added.

Given the huge volume of patients, Idaho imposed crisis standards of care on Sept.16 to help physicians  determine which patients to give scarce beds and oxygen to. Idaho patients have also spilled over into other states prompting Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to chastise Gov. Brad Little for “clogging up” Washington’s hospitals.

Hospitals, including St. Luke’s Wood River, have postponed elective surgeries to free up staff and medical equipment for emergencies. A local TV station reported on one Idahoan who went to California to receive surgery for endometriosis wince she couldn’t get it here. And even a few Wood River Valley residents have left for second homes ahead of schedule because they said they can’t get medical appointments here.

Idaho hospital workers have been berated and even threatened for not providing non-sanctioned therapies, according to Health and Welfare officials.

Jeppesen said it’s disheartening to realize that health care workers have gone from feeling like heroes to feeling at risk.

“We need to be thanking them—they are giving everything they have to help people,” he said. “Even those folks who are potentially hostile towards health care workers…when they have to go to the hospital, they are going to be cared for with the same compassion, care and dignity as any other patient that comes through the door.”

Shaw-Tulloch said Health and Welfare has offered hospitals support for beefing up security. And the City of Boise is spending $300,000 on security for city hall, public libraries and Ice World as confrontations over masks rise.

Hailey Police Chief Steve England posted on Facebook Tuesday that the Hailey Police Department is not interested in being the mask police but will do so if people continue to ignore Hailey’s new mask ordinance.

England said he had been getting an increasing number of complaints about individuals not following the public health order in some restaurants and businesses.

Blaine County and the cities of Ketchum, Sun Valley and Bellevue also have reinstituted orders requiring masks to be worn indoors.

The pace of vaccinations in Idaho has risen but not in keeping with the rest of the country, Jeppesen said. The state continues to have one of the lowest vaccination rates with just over half of Idaho’s eligible population vaccinated, according to Health and Welfare.

Nampa School District Superintendent Paula Kellerer, who spoke during the briefing, said a third of Nampa schools staff have tested positive for COVID, are waiting for test results or have been out sick for some other reason. One elementary school was forced to shut down for several days due to a shortage of staff. Nearly all of the districts in southwest Idaho are struggling to find substitute teachers and bus drivers, she added.

Positive cases among elementary students have exceeded those among high school students for the first time, she added. Thirty percent of those are in pre-school, kindergarten and first grade.

“We are nearing 600 student cases, a number we did not see last year until the middle of January,” she added.

WHAT ABOUT BLAINE COUNTY?

Blaine County’s COVID risk level continues to be critical with 96 new COVID cases recorded from Sept. 5-18, according to the South Central Public Health District.

Currently, 8.27 percent of those who are being tested for COVID are positive, compared with 7.34 percent two weeks earlier. One more Blaine County resident recently died of COVID after months of the death toll sitting at 19, according to Health and Welfare.

About 93 percent of Blaine County residents 12 and older have been vaccinated, according to Health and Welfare.

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