COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little made an impassioned plea, strongly urging everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine to help keep children safe. Schools are getting back into session, but COVID-19 case counts are sky-rocketing.
Little has been begging Idahoans to get the COVID vaccine for months now. With low vaccination rates and the highly contagious Delta variant circulating in Idaho communities – which is twice as contagious as the original strain, Idaho is predicting cases to exceed last year's peak for daily case counts in as soon as October, according to epidemiologists with the State.
North Idaho is already seeing this problem.
"It's been a return to where we were last November and December really," Panhandle Health District (PHD) Interim Director Don Duffy said. "Cases continue to mount, almost unabated, it seems."
There are 31 patients in the critical care unit at Kootenai Health, Duffy said. Within the PHD, there are 74 currently hospitalized, with 69 of them being confirmed COVID-19 cases.
"Our biggest concern right now really is what we're seeing with hospital capacity here at Kootenai Health," he said. "That's a great concern here at Panhandle Health District.
With the school year coming back, Little said enough is enough.
"Our main defense in ensuring the new school year is entirely in-person – free from outbreaks and quarantines – is the COVID-19 vaccine," the governor said in a conference at Nampa High School in Nampa, ID. "As I’ve stated from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our students need to be able to learn in their classrooms with their teachers and peers."
Nearly every single new COVID case, hospitalization and deaths since the start of the year were from people not vaccinated, Little said.
Since Jan. 1, 2021, 98.9% of new COVID-19 cases were people not vaccinated, 98.6% of hospitalizations were people not vaccinated and 98.7% of deaths were people not vaccinated, he said.
Since May 14, 2021, there have been 10-times as many COVID-19 cases among unvaccinated people compared to vaccinated people, 13-times as many COVID-19 hospitalizations and eight times as many COVID-19 deaths, he added.
"To those friends and neighbors of ours waiting to receive the vaccine, the time to get the vaccine is now, when our students are going back to school," Little said. "Our younger population cannot receive the vaccine and they need us – the adults – to make the right decision now so they can stay well and have a productive, successful school year,”
Just over half of Idaho’s adult population is vaccinated, with the greatest share of those vaccinated over the age of 65, Little said.
"The vaccination is the best way to prevent the spread of this disease and it's proving to be very safe and effective," Duffy said. "I agree with the governor, he articulated well that there's a certain population that will have chosen not to be vaccinated. We believe with the governor that there's plenty of individuals that aren't yet sure, and are trying to make that decision we're hopeful that with his efforts and efforts of other organizations to encourage vaccination that that part of the population will make the choice to be vaccinated."
The five northern counties the health district serves are only 38 percent fully vaccinated, he said.
"I am concerned about us getting back to school and how that spread might continue, which potentially could lead to hospitalizations of our younger population," he said. "We are already seeing that."