‘We cannot see a peak in sight;’ virus surge could force more health care rationing

As coronavirus hospitalizations continue to surge across the state, health care rationing is “imminent” across much of Southern Idaho.

Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen gave this grim assessment during the state’s weekly Tuesday afternoon coronavirus briefing.

Last week, overburdened North Idaho hospitals shifted to “crisis standards of care,” an unprecedented move that means hospitals can ration care. Hospitals in the Treasure and Magic valleys could follow suit.

“Without a course change, we will be entering crisis standards of care soon in those areas,” Jeppesen said.

And state officials aren’t expecting a course change.

Coronavirus metrics — such as hospitalizations and ICU admissions, and patients on ventilators — are all trending in the wrong direction. “We cannot see a peak in sight,” Jeppesen said.

Another troubling metric involves K-12 schools. The most rapid increases in case numbers involve 13- to 17-year-olds, with 5- to 12-year-olds not far behind, deputy state epidemiologist Kathryn Turner said Tuesday.

In other talking points from Tuesday:

Football and facemasks. Health and Welfare officials stuck to their playbook Tuesday — repeatedly emphasizing the importance of wearing face coverings indoors or in crowded outdoor settings.

But state epidemiologist Christine Hahn punted a bit when asked about one crowded outdoor setting. More than 35,000 fans attended Boise State University’s first home football game of 2021, and most ignored the university’s mask requirement. (Details, and commentary, from Mike Prater of the Idaho Press.) Boise State is anticipating a similar crowd for another home game Saturday.

Hahn said she didn’t attend the game, and said she was sorry to hear that the masking guideline went ignored. While she didn’t speak to enforcement of the masking requirement, she said it makes scientific sense, even outdoors. “We would still say, really, a mask should be worn in that type of setting, when people are that close together, shouting, encouraging their teams.”

Testing program update. All told, 29 schools and districts have asked about getting a share of $30 million in federal funding for COVID-19 testing, Division of Public Health administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch said Tuesday. That’s up from 17 schools and charters a week ago.

Many of the applicants want to use the money for testing supplies, enough to conduct “robust” surveillance testing to detect cases before an outbreak occurs, Turner said.

Gov. Brad Little last month announced a plan to divert federal coronavirus aid dollars into a voluntary testing plan.

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television; and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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