Saint Alphonsus COVID patient

Saint Alphonsus doctors and nurses perform a tracheostomy on an ICU patient who came in with COVID-19 and is now fighting for his life against complications of the disease. The patient was in the hospital for so long, he reached a point of no longer being infectious.

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In a rare change, hospitalizations and ICU admissions dipped last week in Idaho, where a hospital crisis plan has been in effect statewide for three weeks.

But officials say it’s too soon to say if hospitalizations have hit a peak. Meanwhile, the nation is experiencing a broad decline in new COVID-19 cases, according to the New York Times.

“I think we’re way too early to declare that we’ve hit a plateau or even a peak at this point,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen told reporters Tuesday.

Jeppesen said there are several reasons to doubt the news is promising. Busy hospitals can take days to fully report their data accurately, he said. And the beds might be available for grim reasons. In September, the state saw a record number of deaths, he said. October is keeping pace. The death surge “actually could be part of the reason” hospitalization use metrics have declined, he said.

Jeppesen said state officials will monitor for long-term trends.

“We’ll be looking to see if that is a trend that’s developing or if that’s a data blip that’s happening across the board,” he said.

Just 754 hospitalizations were reported Sept. 30, compared to the record-setting 772 hospitalizations reported on Sept. 25. ICU admissions, meanwhile, declined from 213 on Sept. 24 to 194 on Sept. 30.

About one in three (32%) of all people being treated in Idaho hospitals have COVID-19, according to federal hospital data reported daily by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Roughly 61% of all patients admitted into the adult ICU have COVID-19, the federal data says. Nine in 10 staffed ICU beds are full in the state, the data shows.

The vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 during the surge are unvaccinated. State data released Tuesday found that 89% of COVID-19 cases, 90% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 88% of COVID-19 deaths between May 15 and Oct. 2 were among unvaccinated people.

“People who are fully vaccinated are five times less likely to catch COVID,” Jeppesen said. “And people who are fully vaccinated and still catch COVID are five and a half times less likely to be hospitalized. … The vaccine is effective and remains effective in particular against the delta variant.”

Recent COVID-19 case data is inaccurate because of reporting backlogs, the state health department’s website said.

“Case data for the most recent 2-week period are incomplete. Due to the recent surge of infections, case investigation data are missing for approximately 9,100 outstanding positive laboratory results that are pending local public health district review and follow up,” the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s COVID-19 data dashboard said.

In eastern Idaho, cases are not backlogged though, the regional health district announced in a Monday news release. Case data for Eastern Idaho Public Health shows seven-day average infection rates dropped by 33% between Sept. 24 and Oct. 1, down to a daily case average of 112.

A new state model forecasts that the state’s COVID-19 cases could peak in mid-November at upward of 20,000 cases a week, and then a peak of 1,900 hospitalizations and 305 deaths in a single week in late November, an official said last week.

In the first two weeks of September, the delta variant made up 100% of variants identified through genomic sequencing in Idaho, according to state data.

Health officials have asked people to avoid activities that could result in hospitalization but said people in need of treatment should still seek care.

Jeppesen activated Crisis Standards of Care, a hospital resources crisis plan that guides hospitals on how to provide care when there are too many people who need treatment, on Sept. 16. The standards will remain in effect until hospitals have enough resources to provide routine care to all patients, the state health department said at the time. According to the plan, scarce and potentially life-saving treatment can be rationed with a focus on saving those with the best chance of living — in hopes of saving the most lives possible.

In the week ending Sept. 25, the percent of coronavirus tests that return positive in Idaho declined to 15.4%. That was the second-straight row of declines. In the week ending Sept. 1, the state’s test positivity rate was 17.3%. When positivity rates are above 5%, experts believe the virus is spreading out of control.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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