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Care rationing plans deactivated at northern Idaho hospitals

December 20, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s top health official on Monday deactivated crisis guidelines for rationing care at northern Idaho medical facilities as COVID-19 cases have dropped.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said the number of COVID-19 patients remained high but no longer exceeds available health care resources.

“While this is good news for Idaho, we’re still watching the omicron variant very closely because this is a precarious time,” Jeppesen said.

The omicron variant appeared in the state last week. Much about the omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness.

Scientists have said omicron spreads even easier than other coronavirus strains, including delta, and it is expected to become dominant in the U.S. by early next year.

Early studies suggest people who are vaccinated will need booster shots for the best chance at preventing omicron infections but even without the extra dose, being vaccinated still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

The crisis standards had been in effect for the state’s five most northern counties since Sept. 7. Those counties are Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah and Shoshone. The entire state went into crisis standards from Sept. 16 to Nov. 22.

Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with just under 46% of Idaho residents fully vaccinated against coronavirus, according to numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jeppesen said getting vaccinated, getting booster shots, and wearing masks in crowded areas could help prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed again with COVID-19 patients, potentially forcing the state to return to crisis standards.

Crisis standards of care give legal and ethical guidelines to health care providers when they have too many patients and not enough resources to care for them all. They spell out how health care should be rationed to save the most lives possible during a disaster.

Despite ending crisis standards, health officials said health care systems across the state are generally using contingency operations because of high numbers of patients and that it will be some time before health care systems return to normal operations.

Additionally, officials said that Idaho’s health care facilities are now starting to handle many delayed surgeries and other medical treatments that had been put off while the crisis care standards were in effect.

More than 4,000 people have died in Idaho due to COVID-19.