St. Alphonsus, Nampa ICU

Nurse Tanya Lawson, director of inpatient nursing at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Nampa, discusses the care of critical COVID-19 patients on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.

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BOISE — Idaho has passed another grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, with the state Department of Health & Welfare reporting that the number of Idahoans who have died from COVID-19 surpassed the 3,000 mark on Wednesday, hitting 3,040.

“That’s a staggering and sobering number,” said Dr. David Pate, former CEO of St. Luke’s Health System and a member of the state’s coronavirus working group. “Not all of them are deaths that could have been prevented, but a lot of them could have been. And it’s just, it’s a shame.”

Dave Jeppesen, Idaho Health & Welfare director, said, "The number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Idaho is frankly too high. It makes me incredibly sad because those are moms and dads and siblings and sons and daughters, and families throughout the state mourn their losses. I mourn with them. And I also want to encourage everyone who can to get vaccinated. It’s your best protection against this unpredictable disease."

According to rankings of state death rates compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Idaho as of Wednesday ranked 37th among the states for its deaths per 100,000 population from COVID-19, at 1,638 deaths per 100,000. The highest death rate was in Mississippi, at 3,292 deaths per 100,000 population; lowest, ranking 52nd among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, was Vermont, at 525. Two of Idaho’s neighbors, Oregon and Utah, are among the states with the lowest death rates; Oregon ranks 47th, with 912 deaths per 100,000 population; while Utah ranks 48th with 911. Nationwide, the United States is showing a death rate per 100,000 from COVID-19 of 2,142.

However, Pate noted that more than 20% of Idaho’s deaths have come just in the weeks since Sept. 1. According to state figures, more than 23% of Idaho’s COVID-19 deaths tallied as of mid-week had occurred since Aug. 30.

“That’s staggering, because several things have happened,” Pate said. “Number one, we understand this disease far better today than we did a year ago.” There are more and better treatments for COVID-19 now, better treatment techniques, and there’s an FDA-approved, highly effective vaccine.

“But despite that, these deaths are actually going up,” he said.

Idaho’s current surge, driven by the delta variant of the virus, has seen the state break all records for hospitalizations, intensive care unit occupancy and more; the flood of unvaccinated, seriously ill COVID patients into Idaho’s hospitals has forced the imposition of statewide crisis standards of care, which permit rationing of care when patient needs exceed health care resources. It’s also been hitting younger patients than the previous surges of the virus in the state, and pregnant women are being increasingly hard-hit.

The state’s current COVID-19 trend, Pate said, “just breaks my heart.”

Typically, Idaho’s mortality rates from most causes are lower than most states because of Idaho’s comparatively younger population, he noted.

Though some parts of the country have hit their peak for the current COVID-19 surge and seen case numbers start to decline, Idaho, Pate, said, is “still getting worse.”

“I know we haven’t hit our peak yet,” he said.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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