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'We've lost the war, COVID is here to stay': Idaho medical leaders discuss moving from pandemic to endemic

On Dec. 14, 2020, Dr. Steve Nemerson referred to that day as "D-Day in the battle against COVID." During Tuesday's briefing, he said Idaho has lost that battle.

BOISE, Idaho — As Idaho hospitals remain under crisis standards of care, some of the state's top medical experts addressed the media on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the current state of COVID-19 in Idaho.

Among those who attended the virtual briefing was Dr. Steven Nemerson, the chief clinical officer for Saint Alphonsus Health System. He discussed the current state of hospitals in the state, the long-term effects the virus will have on healthcare workers, and transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic.

For the first time in more than three months, the state is finally seeing a slight decline in community spread. However, this does not necessarily mean the state has peaked in terms of cases and hospitalizations, according to Nemerson.

Over the past several weeks, there has been a steady increase in the number of admissions to the intensive care unit (ICU). Despite the state operating under crisis standards of care, Saint Alphonsus continues to see record numbers of COVID-related and non-COVID-related patients.

Nemerson acknowledged that the hospital has shut down all but "medically necessary, time-sensitive" procedures at this time, and said patients are getting sicker due to the delays.

Amid all the challenges the hospital is facing, Nemerson said the biggest challenge is rehabilitating the staff, who have experienced trauma and mental and emotional fatigue from what they have witnessed for nearly two years.

Nemerson said his staff continues to be harassed and threatened by patients and their families on a daily basis.

On Dec. 14, 2020, Nemerson referred to that day as "D-Day in the battle against COVID." During Tuesday's briefing, he said he was wrong and informed attendees that COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic, but an endemic.

"We've lost the war. COVID is here to stay," Nemerson said. "Because we can't vaccinate enough of the public to eradicate it."

Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare (IDHW) Director Dave Jeppesen echoed Nemerson's sentiments about the toll the pandemic has taken on healthcare workers, asking the public to thank a healthcare worker for the work they have done for nearly two years.

Jeppesen also shared recent hospitalization data from the state. As of Oct. 9, 704 COVID-19 patients are in the hospital, 181 patients are in the ICU and 127 patients are on a ventilator statewide, according to Jeppesen. While these numbers are down slightly from previous records, they still exceed hospital resources.

Since May 15, 2021, 88% of COVID-19 cases, 89.8% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, 92.1% of ICU admissions and 87.1% of COVID-19 deaths have been among unvaccinated Idahoans, according to Jeppesen.

Idaho State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn discussed the use of monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19. She said monoclonal antibody treatment centers in North and Eastern Idaho have successfully treated 100-200 patients since last week.

However, Hahn reiterated that monoclonal antibodies are not a substitute for the COVID-19 vaccine, as they only provide short-term immunity to the virus.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is meeting to discuss authorization of booster shots for those who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine, as well as the idea of "mix-and-match" booster shots. Hahn said the state is going to be attuned to progress with the vaccine.

Hahn also said she is eager to hear about developments in the approval of a vaccine for ages 5-11. Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for people ages 12-17, and the company recently applied for authorization for ages 5-11. The FDA is meeting on Oct. 26.

Doctors have previously stressed the need for more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Just 53% of Idahoans ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, despite the fact that the unvaccinated are making up the overwhelming majority of hospital admissions and deaths from COVID-19. Medical officials are also asking everyone to make sure they get a flu shot this year to avoid adding to the strain on healthcare workers, clinics and hospitals already stretched thin. 

To watch the briefing, click below:

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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