Idaho’s latest coronavirus outbreak has set another troubling record — this one involving pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations.
For much of last week, 14 children were hospitalized with confirmed COVID cases.
To be sure, pediatric cases still account for a small fraction of the state’s spiraling COVID caseload. Last week, overall COVID hospitalizations averaged 759 patients per day, Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen told reporters Tuesday, during the agency’s weekly coronavirus briefing.
But the pediatric hospitalizations follow a record surge in cases involving school-aged children. Case numbers dropped slightly last week, but still, more than 1,400 5- to-17-year-olds contracted the virus.
No Idaho child has died of COVID, and health care experts generally believe that children are more likely to recover from the virus. But health officials worry that the COVID surge could force overburdened hospitals to compromise the care they provide to all patients, young and old, whether they are suffering from COVID or not.
Hospitals are now operating under crisis standards of care — an unprecedented state designation that could allow overburdened hospitals to ration care.
Some hospitalization metrics ticked downward last week. The number of COVID patients in ICUs decreased slightly, as did the number of patients on ventilators.
But with COVID deaths reaching record levels in September, and remaining high during the first few days of October, Jeppesen isn’t reading too much into the decrease in ICU admissions and patients on ventilators.
“I think we’re way too early to declare we’ve hit a plateau,” Jeppesen said.
Deputy state epidemiologist Kathleen Turner agreed.
“I’m not ready to say we’ve hit a plateau or a peak yet either.”
But do viruses run in cycles?
While Idaho tracks rising coronavirus case numbers and record COVID-19 deaths, the national picture is considerably more optimistic.
“COVID, in retreat,” read the headline from Monday’s New York Times newsletter. The Times cited a 35% decline in daily cases across the U.S. since Sept. 1, and revisited an unexplained phenomenon that has played out during the pandemic: Waves of the coronavirus tend to crest over a couple of months, and then recede.
The Times’ takeaway: The delta variant could be the last major wave of the coronavirus. “Whatever this autumn brings, the worst of the pandemic is almost certainly behind us,” wrote the Times’ David Leonhardt.
Do state officials see reason for hope, even amidst the current surge?
The 1918 flu pandemic moved in waves, even in the absence of vaccines or treatments, state epidemiologist Christine Hahn said Tuesday. And earlier this year, the delta variant surged and receded in India over the span of months, despite limited vaccine availability.
“It just feels like the virus is doing its thing sometimes,” she said. “It is a force that we do not fully understand, but we do our best.”
“I am over it,” Turner said. “I want this to be the last surge we have.”
There is some reason for hope. Case numbers began declining in the South two or three weeks before the delta variant drove Idaho’s current uptick. That timeline could translate into a reduction in Idaho cases within two or three weeks. However, recent modeling suggests Idaho weekly case numbers could essentially double, reaching 21,000 in mid-November.
“I am hopeful that we’re going to look like our southern neighbors,” Turner said. “But it’s a hope, it’s not a prediction.”