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Hospitals in Idaho, which has one of the nation’s lowest totals of ICU beds per capita, are in a much better position lately than they were late last year, when medical leaders continually warned that doctors might have to reserve care for the patients most likely to survive.

That’s, in part, because vaccinations for health care workers are at “end stages,” health officials have recently said.

But, in the first month of the nation’s largest vaccination effort with over 82,000 doses administered in Idaho as of Friday, not enough people have been vaccinated to make a dent in infection rates, said state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn.

Absent widespread vaccinations, hospitalizations have been declining since late last year.

“We don’t have nearly enough vaccines in folks to … try to achieve any sort of herd immunity,” Hahn told reporters Tuesday. Just having health care workers vaccinated feels like “progress,” though, she said, with more good news to come.

“We are hoping to soon roll out some information to people who are fully vaccinated that they won’t need to quarantine if they’re exposed. The first impact is on health care capacity,” Hahn said. “Hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers are having better staffing. Disease rates, I think are going to take a little bit longer.”

The pandemic news, this week, in eastern Idaho:

1: When when will things be normal-ish?

Information is still rolling in.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “(e)xperts do not yet know what percentage of people would need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19.” However, estimates range between 70% and 94%.

The nation’s lead infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said Thursday that “if we get 70 to 85% of the country vaccinated, let’s say, by the end of the summer ... I believe by the time we get to the fall we will be approaching a degree of normality.”

The vaccine is still believed to be effective against a more infectious COVID-19 variant found in about 20 states, according to Politico on Friday. Wyoming health officials confirmed the state’s first case of the variant last Saturday in Teton County, Wyoming.

Idaho officials believe it is already here but official word won’t come until later this month or early next month. The state had to ship virus test samples out of state for genetic sequencing to spot any possible cases of the variant.

2: Region’s deaths slow but hit new milestone

It took five months from the first COVID-19 death report in Eastern Idaho Public Health, on June 13, for the eight-county health district to hit 100 virus deaths on Nov. 27.

Less than two months later, the health district doubled the death toll. Six new death reports Thursday evening — only the seventh time that six or more COVID-19 deaths were reported in a single day — brought the health district to 196 total deaths. Four more deaths reported Friday pushed it to 200.

One of those deaths Thursday was an 18- to 29-year-old woman from Bonneville County, who is one of only three Idahoans in that age range to have died from COVID-19.

Cases, meanwhile, continue to drop in the region, hitting a low seven-day daily case average of 72 new cases on Thursday night. That’s less than a third of the region’s peak daily case average of 230 on Dec. 9.

PCR testing in eastern Idaho dropped again during the week of Jan. 10 to Jan. 16, according to state data released last week. Around 2,400 tests were administered then, compared to roughly 4,300 the previous week. From October to December, more than 3,000 PCR tests were typically run per week in eastern Idaho.

3: Infections jump in long-term care facilities

A state report released Friday showed at least 101 new coronavirus cases and four new deaths were reported in eastern Idaho long-term care centers last week. No facility reported a new outbreak.

At least 802 coronavirus cases and 49 deaths from COVID-19 are linked with 30 long-term care facilities in eastern Idaho. The week brought a 14% rise in infections, a rate of growth that the region hadn’t seen since the second week of December. In the week ending Jan. 15, cases grew by 10% in the region. During most recent weeks, infection rates only rose by single-digit percentage points.

Long-term care facilities often house people who are at high risk for severe complications from COVID-19. Statewide as of Friday morning, long-term care facilities are linked to 688 of Idaho’s over 1,650 deaths from COVID-19. The report says outbreaks in 312 long-term care facilities are linked with 8,439 cases in Idaho.

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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