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Idaho health officials say COVID case numbers are flattening

October 19, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s COVID-19 case numbers are so high that the state is still worse off than when it first entered crisis standards of care, but public health officials said Tuesday that some hope is on the horizon.

“For the first time since July, things are headed in a better direction,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said during a public briefing, noting that the number of new cases was flattening out. “It also means that we are not out of the woods yet.”

One month ago, Idaho gave hospitals permission to ration health care as needed as they became overwhelmed with high numbers of unvaccinated coronavirus patients. There are still too many COVID-19 patients for the hospitals to handle normally — forcing most non-emergency surgeries to be delayed and requiring patients to be treated in areas not normally used for care, like classrooms and hallways — but the average daily number of COVID-19-positive hospital patients is starting to decline, Jeppesen said.

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There were an average of 615 COVID-19 patients in Idaho hospitals each day last week, he said, down from a high of 759 patients. The number of coronavirus patients requiring intensive care unit beds or ventilators has also dropped somewhat.

Still, Idaho’s crisis is far from over. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that communities seek to have the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 below 5%. Idaho’s statewide positivity rate is still around 13%, and some counties, such as Boundary and Idaho counties in the northern half of the state, have positivity rates well above 20%.

People need get vaccinated if they aren’t already, and everyone should wear masks indoors around non-household members and in crowded outdoor areas, Jeppesen said.

The state is preparing for the anticipated approval of coronavirus vaccines for younger children, said Dr. Christine Hahn, the state epidemiologist. Public health officials can start pre-ordering the pediatric vaccines Wednesday, she said, and Idaho will be able to get up to 61,800 doses in the first shipment with about 21,000 additional doses in each of the following three weeks.

Health officials are working to ensure the doses will be distributed fairly statewide, Hahn said.

“We want to make sure that small providers get it as well,” so that kids in rural regions aren’t left out, she said.

Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is already authorized for children as young as 12, but in the next few weeks federal officials will consider making smaller-dose versions available to kids between 5 and 11 years old.