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Former CDH physician board member: COVID numbers show us 'the floor, not the ceiling'

The CDC moved Ada County to an area of high-transmission levels, but the actual numbers are likely higher than what gets reported, according to Dr. Ted Epperly.

BOISE, Idaho — The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now defines Ada County as an area of high-transmission levels. This means masks are recommended for everyone indoors.

However, you wouldn't know if you checked Central District Health (CDH) website for guidance.

On May 20, the CDH board voted to remove all masking guidance from their website. As of Friday, the CDC defines three out of four CDH counties as areas of high transmission (Ada, Elmore, Valley).

"Central District Health should be stepping up as the voice in the community to caution people about these things," former CDH physician board member, Dr. Ted Epperly said. "They should be a gateway to education - appropriate, professional, respectful education - and let the public then deal with the information, but they shouldn't choke it off before it get's to the public's awareness."

This lack of local guidance concerns Dr. Epperly, because statewide COVID-19 cases are rising, along with testing positivity rates and hospitalizations. Some of these figures are likely underreported, according to Dr. Epperly.

The increasing popularity of at-home COVID tests means local health districts are not notified and able to report many positive cases.

"It's the floor, not the ceiling. It's still a data point that should be paid attention to," Dr. Epperly said. "I'm worried. I'm nervous about the fact that we're sitting on top of a potential sixth surge."

Due to inherent underreporting, Dr. Epperly is most interested in the wastewater viral load data. Since the beginning of May, the City of Boise's wastewater viral loads have been steadily increasing.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) has tracked vaccination rates since the start of the pandemic. IDHW numbers show 55.2% of Idahoans over the age of 5 have received their primary series of shots. The number drops to 45% for Idahoans who've also received booster shots.

Amid low vaccination rates, social behavior is one of the best tools to prevent the spread of the virus, according to Dr. Epperly.

While the CDC recommends Ada, Elmore, and Valley counties mask up for the time being, Dr. Epperly understands many will choose not to follow the recommendation. Though, he stills asks people to evaluate the current situation before making a decision.

"There are potential loved ones and their families that may be at more risk than we recognize," Dr. Epperly said. "That's where I think we need to elevate the conversation. It's not about us as individuals, it's about others."

While CDH is not offering recommendations regarding masks, they want to remind people to be mindful heading into a holiday weekend.

“We encourage the use of at-home testing to screen yourself before you participate in community activities and gatherings,” CDH Communicable Disease Control Program Manager, Heidi Hopkins said.

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