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Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare highlights declining hospitalizations, COVID-19 cases among children during biweekly meeting

Idaho health experts say while they are pleased with the current hospitalization and case rates, increasing vaccination rates continues to be a challenge.

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) held its biweekly press briefing about COVID-19 in the Gem State on Tuesday. During the meeting, public health officials highlighted the state's recovery from COVID-19, sharing encouraging vaccine, case rate and hospitalization data.

IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen, Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Public Health medical director and state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn, deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner, Idaho Immunization Program Manager Sarah Leeds and Idaho Bureau of Laboratories chief Dr. Christopher Ball were present during the meeting. 

COVID-19 case rates continue to improve statewide, according to Jeppesen. The current seven-day moving average per 100,000 remains below 10 and the statewide testing positivity rate remains below the target of 5%.

Hospitalizations and intensive care admission rates remain stable, but Jeppesen said the rates are still higher than he would like to see. However, Shaw-Tulloch said COVID-19 related hospitalizations have decreased by about 83% since January, with the most significant decrease being among patients aged 65 and older. 

Hospitalizations among those 18 and younger have also decreased by 42% statewide.

Throughout the state, about 5% of long-term care facilities are reporting cases of COVID-19.

As of last week, more than 600,000 Idahoans are fully vaccinated, which Jeppesen acknowledged as a major milestone in the pandemic recovery.

The vaccination milestone comes as the number of new COVID-19 cases among children continues to decrease.

According to Shaw-Tulloch, the number of COVID-19 cases among Idaho children aged 0-4 has decreased by 79%. About 20 new cases are being reported in this age group each week compared to nearly 100 new cases in January.

COVID-19 cases among Idaho children aged 5-12 has decreased by 86% (20 new cases per week compared to 120 in January), and cases among teenagers aged 13-17 has decreased by 87% (40 new cases per week compared to more than 300 in January).

More than 40% of Idahoans are now fully vaccinated, but Hahn said the state still has plenty of work to do. She acknowledged President Joe Biden's goal to reach a nationwide vaccination rate of 70% by Independence Day by sharing that 70% of Idahoans 65 and older are fully vaccinated.

The state continues to explore possible vaccine incentives, such as cash prizes. Shaw-Tulloch said the state is focusing on how to motivate Idahoans to get the vaccine as well as making it easier for them to do so.

Leeds said speaking with providers about the vaccine and its effectiveness has been effective in increasing confidence in the vaccine. Mobile vaccine clinics have also been effective in increasing vaccination rates, especially in rural Idaho communities.

During the May 25 press briefing, Jeppesen expressed concern about a trend that shows fewer people across the state are getting the COVID-19 vaccine, including young people.

Some Idaho communities did not have the Pfizer vaccine available and had to drive out of their area to get a shot, according to Hahn. She said local health districts are working hard to do everything they can to make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated.

To watch the meeting, click below: