BOISE -- Four more cases of the coronavirus were reported March 17 by Idaho health officials, bringing the state total to nine.
As of Tuesday morning, the number of Idahoans tested by the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories and partnered commercials laboratories hit 353. From that 353, 76 have or are currently being monitored, 39 are no longer being examined and nine cases have been confirmed.
Tuesday afternoon Governor Brad Little held a tele-town hall where he allowed Idahoans around the state to ask questions through an email service and call-in toll-free. Much like previous conferences, Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppeson and Idaho’s State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn were in attendance.
“It literally is our number one priority for the state of Idaho," said Little. "Idaho is fortunate that we were a little late in the game [having confirmed cases] ...as a result of that, we have been implementing plans at literally every level of government.”
A common theme in the tele-town hall was the availability of testing kits and the rate of return on sample results. A caller from Rigby said she had been told to self-quarantine for 10 days after being tested while she waited for her diagnosis.
Coronavirus testing has been problematic not only in Idaho but nationwide. Hahn recognized this but ensured that Idaho laboratories were one of the first in the country to begin testing, making the state ahead of the curve. Hahn said the state laboratories have been able to keep up with the sample volume, however they are reaching out to additional hospitals to improve testing availability.
Typically, Idaho laboratories returned testing results in one or two days, Hahn said 10 days is irregular, but it might be due to the delay of commercial laboratories.
“There are some commercial labs that are starting to do testing,” said Hahn. “Some of those commercial labs, probably because they are just getting ramped up now, some of those have taken longer.”
While the outsourcing of coronavirus samples may increase response time, it allows the state to test more Idahoans and further learn about the virus.
“We would love to have more test data. The more information we have the more we know where things are hitting, and if it is getting better or getting worse,” said Hahn. “We are working with private labs to try and increase our capacity...We all see the urgent need for getting more tests and we are doing everything we can to get them.”
Members of the public and state officials recognize the harm a mass wave of positive COVID-19 cases could have on Idaho’s health care facilities. Health officials estimate 15-35 percent of Idaho’s residents have the potential to contract the virus, creating a margin of 630,000 to 270,000 people who could require some sort of hospitalization or medical assistance.
A distressed caller from Nampa pointed out that the IDHW reports state hospitals only have 3,877 beds available, not including those who would require quarantine or extreme measures.
“I really think you should be taking this seriously and calling up the national guard. Not just making plans to build beds but actually starting to build [them], starting to try and get ventilators and making arrangements so that people [can get help],” said the caller. “Currently, we’re doomed. The population of the entire country is in grave danger.”
Little and his coronavirus workgroup maintain their position that one of their primary goals is to protect the health facilities and workers, and efforts to slow the virus’ spread.
“We know that if everyone gets sick all at once we are not going to have the capacity,” said Little. “That’s why everything we’re doing is to take that curve that goes straight up and straight down and plateau that out.”
The workgroup was created in January earlier this year, including members like Jeppeson, the President and CEO of the Idaho Hospital Association Brian Whitlock, the Director of Public Health for the North Central District of Idaho Carol Moehrle, the Idaho Office of Emergency Management Director Brad Richy, retired CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer Dr. Carolyn Bridges, former Idaho St. Luke’s CEO Dr. David Pate, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra.
Jeppeson assured tele-town hall listeners that the IDHW’s mission to promote the health and safety of all Idahoans has never been more important.
“This is a moving issue, the science is moving, the issue about vaccines, about testing, every day the dynamics of those changes and we are being as adaptive as we can here in Idaho,” said Little. “We are doing all we can to be prepared for an increase, we know there is going to be an increase. Our goal is to take that increase and spread it to where our health care facilities capacity can handle it.”
ST. LUKE’S ANNOUNCES DRIVE UP TESTING
In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, St. Luke's Hospital has opted to set up drive-up testing and screening tents starting March 17, according to a statement by the hospital.
These tents are an effort by the facility to lessen the influx of patients into Idaho’s urgent care centers, walk-in clinics, and emergency rooms. St. Luke’s said starting March 14 all COVID-19 testing will go through the screening locations and will no longer be tested in their clinics.
St. Lukes said their tests will have the necessary supplies allowing possible patients to remain in their vehicle for screening, registration and -if necessary- further testing. The statement noted that if people don't meet testing criteria they will be sent home in an effort to conserve critical resources.
The statement said the tent sites were determined based on areas with the greatest need and will be operational March 17 at their Wood River (Ketchum) and Meridian locations. They will be open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday but could change based on population behest.
“We will stand up a testing site in Boise on Wednesday, and evaluate additional sites in Elmore, Fruitland and Magic Valley to follow. Patients in Jerome should go to Magic Valley for screening/testing. Patients in Nampa can be screened and tested at Saltzer’s parking lot located on our St. Luke’s campus in Nampa,” said the announcement. “We are still evaluating our approach for McCall. This is changing on an hourly basis; stay tuned for updates.”
IDAHO HITS NINE CASES
Patient six, an Ada county female under 50 years of age was first reported by Central District Health on March 17. According to the C.D.H., she only experienced mild symptoms and did not undergo hospitalization.
She is currently at home recovering in self-isolation and says she most likely became infected after traveling. She said she is not aware of any association with another confirmed COVID-19 case. This is the third confirmed case in Ada County; however, they have no relation.
Idaho’s seventh case is a woman over the age of 50, while her county of residence is currently unknown, and the patient was reported by South Central Public Health near Twin Falls. Idaho’s second and fifth cases, released by S.C.P.H., were from Blaine County, this brings the region’s total to three.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said she was not hospitalized and is recovering at home in self-isolation. It is currently unknown how she contracted the virus.
The eighth case, a male BYU-Idaho student in his 20s from Madison County, was confirmed March 17 by Eastern Idaho Public Health. The student had recently traveled out of state to a COVID-19 affected area and returned to Madison County March 11.
He has practiced self-isolation in his Rexburg apartment since being tested March 12 and did not require hospitalization. According to Eastern Idaho Public Health, the patient's medical provider determined a COVID-19 test was needed after his travel history and a failed flu result.
South Central Public Health District confirmed a fourth case late March 17, a female patient from Blaine County over 80 years of age. After being isolated in a local hospital, health officials say she is recovering well. It is still unknown how she became infected with the virus.
In the tele-town hall, Hahn said the state will follow district or county lead when releasing information about confirmed cases, in an effort to retain information about patients and protect their privacy.
GROCERIES AND FOOD
Worry about grocery and food services have been present in the public sphere. Photos of bare isles and restaurants moving to take-out and delivery methods only reflect the concern from all Idahoans.
A Nampa resident during the tele-town hall asked for the governor to help the elderly and those who are health compromised by communicating with stores to designate specific time for that population. She described her experience going to the store, saying she had never seen so many people for themselves and hoarding supplies. Little assured her the madness will pass.
“What we hear from the retailers is they think this is a short-term problem, that the supply chains are refilling [their] warehouses,” said Little. “Obviously the initial rush of those who went in and stocked for two, three or four weeks or six months that is starting to play out.”
A component of the governor's state of emergency declaration is Idaho’s law against price gouging. This regulation makes it illegal for anyone to sell fuel, food, medicine, or water at an inflated price at risk of arrest and trial. Little says he has told the Attorney General’s Office to be “very aggressive” on those found price gouging, particularly on critical and health care supplies.
“The groceries is kind of two-fold, people need to have a supply of groceries, but they don’t need six months’ supply,” said Little. “Our major retailers all assure us they’re going to get over this initial rush that’s taking place.”
Considering the food service industry, Little says he has seen the actions of other states and with the trajectory in place he has no doubts Idaho will reach the point of closing restaurants, bars, and other businesses. He said he will readily accept what local governments decide on this subject.
At this time Little and health officials are urging Idahoans to wash their hands or use sanitizer, especially when eating, before touching their face, and being in a populated area. Little stresses that having good hygiene practices, cleaning surfaces, washing items, and taking caution when being around others will help contain the spread.
“Love thy neighbor, be respectful from the standpoint of buying groceries, see what you can do to help your neighbor out,” said Little. “I am sure that Idaho is going to make us all proud when it comes to the end of the day, but there is still going to be some pretty big challenges coming up.”