Idaho’s COVID numbers drop, vaccination rate remains low

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Jonathan Hayward

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) — State health officials say the number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases in Idaho’s continues to drop, and the vast majority of the infections are occurring in unvaccinated people.

Idaho has reported fewer than 200 new cases most days this month, the Post Register reported. In January, the state’s daily average of new cases was closer to 700 daily.

“More than 90% of all cases have no record of being vaccinated that we know of,” one of Idaho’s top public health researchers, Dr. Kathryn Turner, said during an Idaho Department of Health and Welfare news conference Tuesday.

The rate of hospitalized people with COVID-19 has also dropped, declining 83% between January and May, said the state’s public health administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch. The drop in hospitalizations was particularly noteworthy for people ages 65 and up, who have the highest vaccination rate of all age groups in the state.

But Idaho’s vaccination rates continue lagging behind national rates. Just 49% of all Idaho adults have been vaccinated, compared to more than 63% of adults nationally. Vaccinating 70% of all Idaho adults is probably the best-case scenario, state-paid pollsters recently concluded. It may take until late fall to reach that goal, Shaw-Tulloch said.

“But it just depends on people’s personal actions,” Shaw-Tulloch said.

COVID-19 hospitalization rates for teens ages 13 to 17 have declined only 42% since January — almost half the general virus-related hospitalization decline during the same time period, Shaw-Tulloch said.

“Even though we’re seeing declines in cases, we are still seeing cases from children and children in the hospital due to COVID. The disease rates in children are reflective of what we’re seeing with community transmission,” she said. “And we know that vaccines work. And so we want to encourage children to get the vaccine so they can make sure that they get their summer back and that they have a good outcome for the (next) school year.”

The state is using $9 million in grant funds to support novel ways to get more people vaccinated — including mobile clinics that take walk-ins and operate at workplaces, Shaw-Tulloch said.

Officials are also considering other ways to give Idaho residents incentives to get vaccinated, she said, including looking at how other states have boosted vaccination rates. Some states are offering cash incentives to people who get vaccinated with lotteries.

State public health officials are also trying to ensure that local doctors and health care providers have the best information about vaccines to address concerns and hopefully sway people who are hesitant about being inoculated, said Sarah Leeds, who runs Idaho’s immunization program.