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Why there's a delay in reporting Idaho's coronavirus hospitalizations

The state doesn't have just one system to accurately tell them how many Idahoans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. It has many.

BOISE, Idaho — Concerns about overwhelming Idaho's healthcare capacity is one of the main reasons why Gov. Brad Little issued his stay-at-home order back in March.

The state uses different data to measure how the hospital systems are doing and how much capacity is available in the state, should there be a sudden influx of patients.

The state doesn't have a data system that lets them see who is currently hospitalized, so they have to pull data from different sources to get a clearer picture.

One of those sources is called syndromic surveillance. This is data that comes out of hospital emergency rooms. The state keeps track of these numbers on its coronavirus website. It shows the number of emergency department visits from people with a COVID-like illness.

“It also lets us know what our emergency department visits look like,” Dep. State Epidemiologist Kathryn Turner said. “Are they going up, are they going down? So, we also watch it just to determine the volume of emergency department visits that Idaho facilities are seeing.”

The state also keeps track of the total hospitalizations for COVID-19. This can also be found on the state’s website. However, someone could be admitted with a COVID-like illness but test negative for COVID-19.

“Just because someone is admitted with a COVID-like illness doesn't mean they are added to that number,” Turner said. “Maybe they're admitted because they're having trouble breathing and it’s not COVID-related."

RELATED: Idaho health officials closely monitoring COVID-19 hospitalization rates

Another way the state tracks hospitalizations is through case investigations. When someone tests positive, the local health district investigates it.

The investigation entails a local epidemiologist calling the individual and asking questions. They also will check medical records and follow up with the medical provider.

The information is then reported to the state by one of Idaho's seven local public health districts, and the Department of Health and Welfare updates the number of hospitalizations on its website.

On Wednesday, the number of people hospitalized for coronavirus went from 330 to 340. This means 340 people have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

However, this does not mean 10 people were hospitalized on Tuesday.

“Those people may have been hospitalized on Monday and we just found out yesterday,” Turner said. “It could be a couple days before we can get a hold of the patient and get ahold of the medical records and complete that entire picture about the status of that patient.”

Investigations are also taking longer since there are more to do. As for current hospitalizations, Turner told KTVB that is reported by hospitals directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC administers the National Healthcare Safety Network. At the time of publication Wednesday night, the CDC was reporting there were 70 people currently in Idaho inpatient beds with COVID-19.

That is less than 2% of the total inpatient beds in the state, according to the CDC.

While hospital capacity is looking good in the state right now, there has been an increase in the number of people being hospitalized amid the recent spike in cases.

“It’s just been very recently that we're starting to see a little, that curve is starting to kind of start to come up, so it’s true we are seeing more hospitalizations,” Turner said. “I want to reiterate they are nothing like what we were seeing earlier on in the outbreak in March and April. We had a lot of hospitalizations during that time.”

In order to keep hospitalizations down, health officials are encouraging the use of a mask when going out in public, physical distancing, and practicing good hygiene like washing your hands and covering your cough.

“The virus doesn’t care who you are, if it can be transmitted it’s going to be transmitted,” Turner said. “So, what we’re hoping is that people who are finding out they’re a lab-confirmed case or they’re a probable case, which means you have all the symptoms and contact with a confirmed case, we hope those people aren’t going to work and aren’t going out into public and are staying home.”

RELATED: Idaho coronavirus updates: Ada County continues to lead state in new cases; Hyde Park Street Fair canceled

RELATED: 'We may mandate it': Idaho governor talks about masks on weekly AARP telephone town hall

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