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Primary Health seeing large spike in COVID-19 cases in children

Primary Health's Dr. David Peterman said the positivity rate among children in the Treasure Valley is 'eight times higher' than it should be.

BOISE, Idaho — As Omicron creates a surge in positive cases across Idaho, the numbers are being reflected in Treasure Valley Schools. Primary Health leadership said they are seeing some of the highest numbers of positivity rates among school-aged children they have ever seen. 

This comes as several Idaho school districts have had to temporarily close schools because of high illnesses among students and staff.

"For the last two to three weeks, this is exactly what I've been saying, which is I was concerned so many children will get coronavirus and spread it to staff and they'll have to close schools," Dr. David Peterman, the CEO of Primary Health said.

Peterman said since Jan. 3 his medical group's facilities have tested 30,000 people for COVID-19. In the last seven days, Primary Health locations in the Treasure Valley have tested 3,000 5-18-year-olds. He added his data showed 5-11-year-olds have a positivity rate of around 39%, while 12-18 have a positivity rate of around 40%.

"Remember that the experts recommend that with a pandemic from a respiratory disease, your goal is to get the positivity rate down to 5% or less - ours is eight times that," Peterman said.

Primary Health is able to presume where a school-aged child who visits one of their clinics goes to school because the staff tracks the zip code they live in. Peterman said for the past few weeks, each school district has been around a 30% positivity rate, but added the districts without a mask mandate have a higher rate.

For Peterman, one of his main goals during this pandemic is to keep kids in schools. He believes a way to accomplish this is by those eligible students and staff getting vaccinated and boosted, having more testing and creating more consistent rules and policies across all school districts, such as a mask mandate.

"Even if you wear a mask let's say at a Boise school, if you play sports against another school that maybe has different rules, then those kids would be exposed," Peterman said. 

He added as Omicron continues to spread without policies to slow the spread, it will affect families and businesses around the community.

"It's incredibly disruptive," Peterman said.

More COVID-19 policies and safety measures, like universal masking, is something West Ada School District parent Josh Jacquot also wants to see in his child's school. 

"Schools by the nature of their arrangement are perfect places for this virus to spread and you know what the medical experts do when they find themselves in a place where the virus is likely to spread? They put on masks," Jacquot said.

Next to the wellbeing and safety of his community, not having his child in school because of school closures due to staffing shortages from high illnesses is another one of his worries. Jacquot is looking for the West Ada School District to be more transparent when it comes to the positive cases in the district.

West Ada only shows five days' worth of cases on its COVID-19 dashboard for students and staff who were infected while at school. West Ada said the change to show only five days worth of cases comes from CDC's shortened quarantine period of five days.

In an email to KTVB, the district said, "one purpose of our dashboard is to keep parents/guardians informed of the potential risk for their child to attend school. There is only risk if a student was infectious while attending school. If they were not infectious while attending school then they were not exposing other students."

Jacquot said from what he has heard from other parents and seen on the dashboard himself, he is not sure the cases showing up on the dashboard are accurate. He expects much higher positive cases.

"As a parent, we should have specific and accurate information about what's happening on a school level or at least on a district level, that we can believe and I don't believe everything now," Jacquot said.

Peterman explained he does not look at school district dashboards to get an accurate explanation of what's happening locally for positive cases. Peterman said this is a community problem and he looks at community-wide transmission to determine how schools should put into effect safety measures.

"If we look at what ends up closing schools, it's not necessarily the specific identification of that school, it's the high positivity rate in the community and particularly in school which doesn't have universal masks, then that high positivity rate spreads like wildfire," Peterman said.

West Ada School District will have a board of trustees meeting on Monday. Chairman Rusty Coffelt said a discussion of the district's pandemic plan will be on the agenda.

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