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'We are not out of the woods yet': Data indicates COVID-19 cases may have peaked, Idaho health officials say

While recent COVID-19 data suggests Idaho may have reached a peak in new cases and hospitalizations, the current rates are still at an all-time high.

BOISE, Idaho — Just one week after one of Idaho's leading medical experts announced that the COVID-19 pandemic was transitioning to an endemic, the Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare (IDHW) gave an update on COVID-19 in the state on Tuesday afternoon.

IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen, Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch, State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn, Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner and Idaho Bureau of Laboratories Chief Dr. Christopher Ball were present during the meeting.

Jeppesen opened the meeting with hopeful remarks, stating that data indicated that Idaho has reached a peak in COVID-19 cases and testing positivity has continued to decrease over the last four weeks. The state is also seeing "encouraging trends" in hospitalizations.

Despite this, Jeppesen said COVID-19 cases, testing positivity rates and hospitalizations are still at an all-time high and the current number of cases continues to exceed resources.

Since May 2021, 87% of COVID-19 cases, 90% of COVID-19 hospitalizations, 92% of admissions to the intensive care unit (ICU) and 86% of deaths have been among unvaccinated Idahoans, according to Jeppesen.

"We're not out of the woods yet with this current surge of cases," he said.

Shaw-Tulloch reiterated Jeppesen's remarks, stating that Idaho's case count is still remarkably high. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the state has aimed to have a COVID-19 testing positivity rate of 5% or below. Over the past four weeks, the state's positivity rate has decreased from 17.3% to 13.2%.

While the decrease is encouraging, Shaw-Tulloch said it is still far above what health officials want to see.

Another area of concern for Idaho health officials is the death rate of younger Idahoans. According to Shaw-Tulloch, the majority of COVID-19 related deaths in 2020 were among those 80 years of age or older. In 2021, COVID-19 deaths are occurring in younger age groups.

Deaths among those aged 50-79 have increased and deaths among those aged 18-49, who were originally thought to be protected from severe COVID-19 symptoms, have tripled.

"If we truly want to celebrate an end to COVID in success, we need to increase our vaccination rate. We need to embrace wearing masks to protect ourselves and others much more robustly than we have seen it now. We need to limit our social interactions and we need to avoid large gatherings," Shaw-Tulloch said. "We know it works, we know it saves lives and it's how we can get out of crisis standards of care and get our kids back in the classroom where they deserve to be."

Idaho's most recent hospitalization data from Oct. 15 report 555 Idahoans currently in the hospital due to COVID-19 complications. Additionally, 171 people are in the intensive care unit (ICU). Both reports are down from record highs reported on Sept. 24 (793 hospitalized, 213 in ICU), but Jeppesen said during last week's briefing that the current rates are still significantly exhausting healthcare resources.

Saturday marked one month since Idaho was forced to expand crisis standards of care statewide in response to a spike in new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. An overwhelming majority of those who end up hospitalized or dead from the virus are unvaccinated, doctors say. Just over half of eligible Idahoans - those ages 12 and older - are fully vaccinated.

Since that grim designation, the surge has shown little sign of improvement. Kootenai Health in hard-hit North Idaho set a new record for COVID-19 patients in their ICU on Monday, and with other hospitals in the Treasure Valley reporting dwindling hospital beds and other resources.

At this time, Idaho is still operating under crisis standards of care. 

Check back for updates from the briefing.

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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