By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
State health officials shared a message of tentative optimism Feb. 8 during their weekly novel coronavirus media update, telling reporters that Idaho is on the downward slope of virus data that seemed to do nothing but set new records in the new year thanks to the highly contagious omicron variant.
“I’m super happy to be able to say something positive because I’m usually giving bad news but yes, we have hit our peak,” Dr. Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist, said during the media briefing, as reported by Boise news station KTVB.
“This is not over just because we’re starting to see a downward trend,” she added. “The case numbers are crazy high relative to what they’ve been earlier on in the pandemic.”
The Idaho Capital Sun reported that Idaho saw an average of 600 people hospitalized with COVID-19 during the past week — a number now headed on the decline, according to the latest data. The last time the number of hospitalized COVID patients peaked was September 2021, when the delta variant caused a deadly surge, which resulted in 800 Idahoans requiring hospital care.
Despite the promising shift, Idaho’s status as one of the least vaccinated states in the nation continues to cause concern among health officials. Of everyone eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine — that is, anyone 5 years of age or older — Idaho’s population sits at about 53.4% fully vaccinated, versus the 68.2% national figure. While 76.1% of Idahoans over the age of 65 are fully vaccinated, the national percentage is 88.5%.
“We worry that these low numbers leave Idahoans vulnerable to future outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths, especially compared to other states, where we know that rates are higher,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn told reporters Feb. 8. “We also want people to consider getting a booster to make sure they continue to have a high level of protection against this unpredictable virus as we continue to wait to see if we get future waves of it.”
According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and received a booster shot at least six months after their original series are 11 times less likely to be hospitalized for virus-related health issues than those who are unvaccinated. People with booster shots are also 20 times less likely to die from the virus. The nation saw a grim milestone in the pandemic Feb. 4, as the U.S. surpassed 900,000 COVID-related deaths. In Idaho, that number nears 4,500.
Several resources are available to those deciding to seek vaccination, including websites such as covidvaccine.idaho.gov or vaccines.gov, which can help connect people to pharmacies and other health facilities offering initial shots as well as boosters.
As part of a nationwide effort to make COVID-19 testing more available to Americans, every U.S. household is eligible to order four free at-home rapid tests by going to covidtests.gov. Locally, testing can be accessed — with a doctor’s order — at the Bonner General Health testing site, now located at 400 Schweitzer Plaza Drive in Ponderay. The site is open 8 a.m.-noon, Monday through Friday.
Those with COVID-related questions can reach the Panhandle Health District’s virus hotline at 877-415-5225.
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