Idaho health leaders warn of surging COVID virus numbers


BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The leaders of some of Idaho’s largest health care providers warned residents Wednesday that coronavirus cases again are again threatening to overwhelm hospitals and primary care clinics as cases climb statewide.

The top medical officials with Primary Health, St. Luke’s Health System and Saint Alphonsus Health System urged people to wear masks indoors and to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in an online news conference with Boise Mayor Lauren McLean.

Dr. David Peterman, a pediatrician and the CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, said the number of positive coronavirus tests his clinic is seeing is comparable to what they saw in January, when statewide numbers were surging.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that communities try to keep positive case rates at 5% or less of the total population, Peterman said. The rate of positive tests being done at Primary Health’s 21 clinics in southwestern Idaho is far higher.

“We’re four times that rate,” Peterman said. “The number of people actually being tested in our clinics — requiring tests — has tripled.”

The number of positive cases has increased in every age group, and positive cases in 5- to 12-year-olds has tripled, Peterman said.

Statewide, COVID-19 infections among those younger that 12 have doubled in the past two weeks, Idaho’s deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner said during a separate news conference on Tuesday.

The health experts said the increase is likely because the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has become the dominant strain in Idaho. Turner said the variant is at least twice as contagious as the original COVID-19 virus, with one person infected with the delta variant able to infect an average of five to nine other people.

Dr. Patrice Burgess, the executive medical director of Saint Alphonsus, said her hospital system is also seeing a dramatic increase, and COVID patients in the intensive care unit are younger and sicker than they were during previous surges, with people in their 30s ending up on ventilators. They are also unvaccinated, Burgess said.

At St. Luke’s hospitals, patients are being held for long periods of time in the emergency room while they wait for ICU beds to become available, St. Luke’s chief medical officer Dr. James Souza said. The number of COVID patients admitted has doubled in the past two weeks, he said.

“We’re kind of entering the ‘Class V rapids’ of this pandemic,” said Souza, referring to a category of whitewater rapids that are extremely dangerous for rafters to navigate. To preserve hospitals’ capacity to care for patients, Souza said, “every single rower’s got to put their oars in the water at the same time and the left and right sides of the boat have got to work in tandem.”

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