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COVID Numbers May Have Peaked but Idaho’s Still Worse Than a Month Ago
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Wednesday, October 20, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Idaho health officials said Tuesday afternoon that the latest surge of COVID-19 cases in Idaho may have peaked.

“For the first time since July, things are headed in a better direction. (But) we’re not out of the woods yet,” Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen cautioned.

The state’s testing positivity has decreased from 17.3 percent to 13.2 percent but remains above the 5 percent or lower rate health officials want to see, said Public Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch.

Daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are still at all-time highs, exceeding hospital resources. And, while the majority of COVID-19 related deaths in 2020 were among those 80 years and older, deaths among those between the ages of 50 and 79 have increased and deaths among those between the ages of 18 and 49 have tripled, said Shaw-Tulloch.

Blaine County has lost a 24th resident to COVID. The man, in his 50s, had underlying health conditions.

The county has reported 42 new cases since Friday, averaging eight new cases a day. The state added 1,466 new cases on Tuesday.

The state averaged 615 hospitalized COVID patients each day last week, down from a peak on Sept. 24 when 793 COVID patients were hospitalized and 213 were in ICUs.

But it’s not enough to get Idaho out of crisis standards of care a month after the state gave physicians the authority to ration care as needed.

Kootenai Health set a record for COVID patients in its ICU this week. And the number of hospitalized COVID patients remains higher than when the state entered crisis standards of care, Jeppesen said.

Hospitals are still housing and treating patients in non-traditional spaces, such as classrooms and hallways. And non-emergency surgeries, such as knee replacements, are still off the table.

Jeppesen said he can’t say when Idaho will go back to regular standards of care.

“Right now, even with extra staff provided by federal partners and the National Guard, we’re still running higher than normal,” he said, adding that in a lot of ways Idaho is in a worse situation than when it started crisis standards of care.

Jeppesen said he has learned that operating under crisis standards of care is not as black and white as officials thought it would be.

“It’s very fluid; it changes hourly. But we’re getting better about moving patients out of the hospital that don’t need to be there,” he said, referencing residents of long-term care facilities in particular. “Hospitals have done an incredible job of converting spaces, being creative…and that’s created the ability to manage the situation as best we can.”

Since May, 87 percent of new COVID-19 cases, 90 percent of COVID hospitalizations, 92 percent of ICU admissions and 86 percent of deaths have been among unvaccinated Idahoans, Jeppesen said.

A WalletHub study this week put Idaho dead last in terms of how safe it is given its low  vaccination rate, its rate of COVID-19 transmission, test positivity, COVID hospitalizations and COVID-related death rate.

To date 53 percent of Idahoans have been vaccinated, according to the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Data Dashboard. More than 95 percent of eligible Blaine County residents have been vaccinated, although that may be a little misleading since some second homeowners were counted.

While the number of Idahoans getting vaccinated continues to be low, there’s been an uptick in Idahoans getting booster doses, said Dr. Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist.

“And we’re getting about 1,500 people a day getting a first dose. That’s not bad. That’s 1,500 people to celebrate,” she said.

The state can start pre-ordering pediatric vaccines for children between the ages of 5 and 12 on Wednesday, said Dr. Christine Hahn, the state epidemiologist. Idaho will be able to get up to 61,800 doses in the first shipment with 21,000 additional doses in each of the following three weeks.


 

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