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Health and Welfare director says crisis standards of care 'imminent' in Treasure and Magic valleys

Idaho is setting new records each week for hospitalizations due to COVID-19, as well as patients in the ICU and on ventilators, DHW Director Dave Jeppesen said.

BOISE, Idaho — With new daily cases of COVID-19 at their highest numbers since the end of 2020, Idaho health officials have become increasingly concerned with the impact on hospitals and other healthcare facilities around the state.

Crisis standards of care were activated one week ago in the state's two northernmost health districts, Panhandle and North Central -- a standard Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen has called the "last resort."

After crisis standards were activated September 7 in North Idaho, Jeppesen said other parts of the state, including the Treasure Valley, had a little of what he called wiggle room, "but not much."

On Tuesday, Sept. 14 during a statewide media briefing, Jeppesen told reporters that the daily averages for people hospitalized with COVID-19, patients in the ICU and the number of people on ventilators, continue to set new records each week.

"The numbers are increasing at an alarming rate and we do not see a peak in sight," he said.

"Hospitalizations in Southwest, Central and South Central health districts, which includes the Treasure Valley and the Magic Valley, are reaching a critical point," Jeppesen said. "Without a change in direction, crisis standards of care are imminent for all three of those health districts." 

The rising number of COVID patients has already forced Idaho hospitals to delay some surgeries and treatments. Health officials say more than 90% of COVID patients are unvaccinated. During crisis standards of care, Jeppesen says hospital administrators are forced make tough decisions about how to allocate scarce resources.

Jeppesen said Idahoans can do their part to stay healthy and help an already overstressed health care system by getting a COVID-19 vaccine, wearing a mask while indoors, and wearing a face covering in crowded outdoor spaces where it's not possible to safely physical distance from others.

Another concern raised during Tuesday's media briefing is the rising number of COVID cases among younger populations, especially those under 18. Deputy state epidemiologist Kathryn Turner said all the metrics are trending in the wrong direction. She says the fastest rate of growth in COVID cases is among children ages 13-17, and those ages 5-12 are not far behind.

"Last week we had 635 cases among teens identified 13 to 17 in age," Turner said.

Idaho has also seen an uptick in the number of COVID-related deaths. The state is now averaging around 10-20 per day. Turner says back in June, the number of deaths reported daily was around 1-3 per day. So that's a concern too. In 2020, around half the people who died from COVID were over 80. In 2021, we're seeing a much younger population. Half the COVID deaths this year are in the age group 50-79.

Tuesday's briefing comes the day after Idaho's 14-day moving average for new COVID-19 cases reached 1,084 per day, the highest since December 31, 2020. As the new year arrived, new case numbers were beginning a steady decline. In 2021, the moving average dropped to less than 66 cases per day on July 5 before increasing steadily over the two months that have followed.

In recent weeks, Idaho health officials have said the delta variant is driving the spread of COVID-19, mostly among people who remain unvaccinated. 

A little more than half of eligible Idaho residents have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. That population includes adults and children over the age of 12 years old.

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