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How could the Delta variant impact COVID-19 recovery in Idaho this fall?

With rising COVID-19 case counts in major U.S. cities, Dr. David Pate encourages getting a vaccine along with continued safety precautions.

BOISE, Idaho — COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations have improved drastically from summer 2020 to now. On July 18, 2020, Idaho reported 550 new COVID-19 cases. The latest daily case report from the state published on Friday showed 161 new cases.

While things are beginning to feel more normal, some experts are concerned that people, specifically those who are unvaccinated, have given up on COVID-19 precautions which could lead to a resurgence of cases in the fall.

“Something like 45% of us are fully vaccinated, which means if you are following the CDC’s advice, 55% of people we see out and about should be wearing a mask," said Dr. David Pate, the retired CEO of St. Luke's Health System. "I can tell you, at least the places where I’ve been traveling around the Treasure Valley, it’s nowhere close to that."

Los Angeles County reinstated its indoor mask mandate overnight on Saturday, which extends to fully vaccinated individuals. These measures, according to Pate, are not unreasonable.

“Let’s get ahead of this and let’s try to stem this rise in cases now," he said. "Of course, the best way to do it is the way we’ve always talked about. Mask if you are out and around people, try to avoid getting into large gatherings, try to keep your distance, and of course, get vaccinated."

More than 99% of new COVID-19 deaths in Idaho occurred in unvaccinated individuals, according to Pate. In addition, 97% of new hospital admissions are unvaccinated Idahoans.

So what will Idaho look like in the coming months? If COVID-19 trends in Idaho continue on the same trajectory, Pate believes there could be implications for the upcoming school year, specifically at the elementary and middle school level where there is no vaccine yet for students under 12. 

The introduction of the more contagious delta variant is also a concern for Pate. Recently, he has studied how other countries are faring with schools and COVID-19 as of late. 

He found there are major differences between now and a year ago because of the delta variant.

“Last year, even with the infections we saw in school, it didn’t really spill out into the community to any notable extend and it didn’t really contribute to community spread," Pate said. "But what we are hearing from every country that has dealt with this is schools do now contribute to the community spread and that’s what I think will happen here."

RELATED: Treasure Valley parent feels it’s ‘little bit premature’ to remove mask mandates in schools

Idaho medical experts believe schools could see challenges with COVID-19 outbreaks among younger, unvaccinated students this fall, especially with significantly reduced protocols and optional masks in many school districts. 

Pate questions why students who are not eligible for a vaccine yet are being told they don’t need to mask up. He said masks were very helpful in cutting down on the spread of the virus last school year and helped prevent students from bringing home the virus, especially to families who are not vaccinated.

“We are going to get to a point in the first part of the school year where younger kids can get vaccinated and just like last year, we said, 'Let’s give teachers a chance to get vaccinated before we change these restrictions,' we ought to do the same thing for the kids,” Pate said.  

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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