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Health officials: COVID won't end on Jan. 1

Staff Writer | December 29, 2020 1:06 AM

As North Idaho joins the world Thursday evening to welcome in 2021 — or, more likely, to cast off 2020 forever into the history books — local officials have expressed concern about residents brushing off health protocols as they celebrate the coming holiday weekend.

“If you plan to attend a gathering for the New Year’s holiday,” said Andrea Nagel of Kootenai Health, “please plan to wear a mask, wash your hands, distance yourself appropriately and limit the number of people in attendance.”

Nagel’s comments come as the local hospital reported its medical and surgical units stand at 91 percent capacity Monday morning, with 82 COVID-19 in-patients, 24 of whom are in critical care beds. The hospital has all-but-eliminated visitation to its patients and has suspended elective and non-emergent procedures until at least January 10.

Gov. Brad Little has said the state’s shrinking health care capacity is forcing his team to consider implementing crisis standards of care, which could impact measures ranging the kind of rooms would house patients to establishing outdoor field hospitals. Nagel said that, though those crisis standards have not been implemented, some patients were transferred to other hospitals in the past week.

“We are doing everything possible to care for the patients in our community,” she said.

Both Nagel and Panhandle Health District public information officer Katherine Hoyer said that previous holidays during the pandemic — namely Independence Day, Labor Day and Thanksgiving — were followed by rises in new cases in the weeks to follow. Panhandle Health reported Monday afternoon that 335 new cases have arrived in Kootenai County since Christmas Eve, bringing the county total to 12,124 since the pandemic began.

“We’re experiencing high community transmission,” she said. “People who are hosting small gatherings — even though they think it’s safe — whenever you’re bringing in people from outside the household, you’re taking a risk. There are ways to gather more safely and reduce that risk.”

Hoyer reiterated the advice the Panhandle Health District, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, and the Centers for Disease Control have all been issuing throughout the course of the pandemic: wear a mask, practice physical distancing, wash your hands and stay home if you’re sick. With the holidays nearly over, Hoyer also stressed how outdoor parties are considered safer alternatives to help prevent the spread of a disease the World Health Organization reports has killed 1.7 million people.

“I just hope everyone has a safe and happy new year,” Hoyer said, “so we can all hopefully enjoy it together this time next year.”