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Despite vaccinations, Idaho long-term care facilities urged to keep coronavirus protocols in place

As of Tuesday afternoon, approximately 91,500 Idahoans 65 and older had received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

BOISE, Idaho — Since the beginning of the pandemic, long-term care facilities have been a top priority. 

Now that many residents and staff at Idaho's long-term care facilities have received the vaccine, some are wondering if they still need to follow social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. And what happens if some of the staff at those facilities are opting out of getting vaccinated? 

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is working to improve its messaging and communication, according to Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch, to make sure the department is addressing potential concerns some workers may have about receiving the vaccine.

Scout O'Gara's mom lives in a local assisted living facility. She's been told that her mom, along with all of the other residents at that facility have been vaccinated, but they're having to sit at tables by themselves and eat alone. 

She told KTVB that it’s apparently because of two reasons. First, some of the staff have opted out of getting the vaccine, and second, because the facility isn't able to keep the required six feet of distance.

“We feel like the elderly population that's in assisted living right now is falling through the cracks of reason in saying they had the courage to get immunized, they went through the full course of immunization and their ability to just enjoy the simple pleasure of eating with another person and having that little window of social time has been neglected, it's really frustrating,” O’Gara said. 

During a media briefing on Tuesday, state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn talked about long-term care facilities and continuing to follow those COVID protocols, despite a lot of residents getting vaccinated. 

“The center for Medicaid and Medicare is expected to come out with some more specific guidance, there are so many long-term care facilities around the country that are in that exact situation right now," Hahn said. "They have some folks vaccinated, and maybe not everybody and even if they had everyone vaccinated, maybe the next day they'd admit a new resident and that person may or may not have been vaccinated or maybe only received their first dose.

"So it's going to be a constantly adjusting process," she added.

A spokesperson for Central District Health told KTVB that, per federal guidance, long-term care facilities should continue to follow all current guidance despite the vaccination of some staff and residents. That guidance includes maintaining six-feet of physical distance. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, approximately 91,500 Idahoans 65 and older had received at least the first dose of the vaccine.

According to Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen, the state does not have a clean way to track which of those seniors are in long-term care facilities and which are not.

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