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Idaho health officials discuss COVID amid return to crisis standards of care

The chief clinical officer for Saint Alphonsus joined Idaho public health officials to discuss resource issues testing hospital capacity.

BOISE, Idaho — Editor's note: Due to technical difficulties, the livestream was not available. A recording of the briefing is embedded below, and the text of this story is being updated.

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Idaho has seen new daily case numbers surge to the highest they've been since the state's first case was confirmed. Also, crisis standards of care have been activated for a second time in the Central, Southwest and South Central public health districts, which include the Treasure and Magic valleys.

Saint Alphonsus Health System requested activation of crisis standards on Friday, Jan. 21, citing a nationwide blood shortage and a of clinical and nonclinical staff, due in large part to a high rate of illness.

Saint Alphonsus chief clinical officer Dr. David Nemerson said Tuesday that the spread of COVID during the current Omicron variant-driven surge is the fastest Saint Als has seen during the entire pandemic. He also said of the COVID patients hospitalized for serious illness, about 80% are unvaccinated.

"The moral trauma that my colleagues are experiencing throughout our hospitals, throughout our clinics attempting to save the lives of patients like this who - had they only been vaccinated, had they protected themselves, worn masks and stayed distant - wouldn't be under our care. It's just not necessary," Nemerson said.

Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said when considering the Saint Alphonsus request, the Crisis Standards of Care Activation Committee recommended statewide activation. While the current activation applies only to three health districts, Jeppesen wrote in his declaration that  "the situation for healthcare systems in the rest of the state remains very fragile and will continue to be monitored daily."

However, if you need health care, "continue to seek health care as needed," Jeppesen said.

Nemerson joined Jeppesen and other Idaho state public health officials for the Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare's weekly COVID-19 media briefing.

Right now, Nemerson said, Saint Alphonsus isn't "rationing" care, but the supply of blood available for potentially lifesaving transfusions may soon not be enough for everyone who needs it.

Statewide, 3,518 new confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases were reported Tuesday. The 14-day moving average of new cases has increased to more than 2,330 per day. Two weeks earlier, Jan. 11, the average was about 966.

The daily case numbers reported in recent weeks don't include at-home "rapid test" results, people who may have COVID but haven't been tested, and more than 40,000 positive lab tests still pending review and follow-up in Idaho's seven public health districts. Jeppesen said those pending lab results don't necessarily represent distinct COVID-19 cases.

"For example, it's possible that one person may have had two or more tests over the past few weeks," he said.

However, Jeppesen went on to say that IDHW estimates a 7-day incidence rate of more than 258 new cases per 100,000 population, based on the magnitude of the backlog at local health districts. The published rate, based only on lab reports the health districts have already processed, is about 94.

The briefing in its entirety is viewable below (mobile users tap here):

Click here for more COVID-19 news from KTVB, including Idaho's daily case numbers, interactive county-by-county case maps and charts tracking COVID-19 case and hospitalization trends.

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