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Big Idaho health care providers mandate staff get COVID vaccines

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | July 9, 2021 1:00 AM

While three of Idaho's largest medical care providers announced Thursday that they would require COVID-19 vaccines for eligible employees, two in North Idaho said they do not.

Officials with Primary Health Group, Saint Alphonsus Health System and St. Luke's Health System said the mandates are an effort to keep staffers and patients safe ahead of the cold and flu season and as coronavirus variants continue to spread in parts of the U.S., according to an Associated Press report.

“This is the right thing that needs to be done today,” Primary Health Group CEO Dr. David Peterman said. “If you think in terms of a billion vaccine doses being given all over the world — and the serious side effects are extremely rare — you begin to see that it’s our obligation to make sure our clinics are safe.”

Primary Health has 21 family medicine and urgent care clinics in southwestern Idaho that see about 500,000 patient visits a year. About 130 of its more than 600 employees haven’t yet been vaccinated, Peterman said in the AP report.

The Panhandle Health District said it does not require employees to get a COVID vaccine.

Katherine Hoyer, PHD spokeswoman, said PHD also does not track whether employees are vaccinated.

"If an employee received their vaccine through a PHD clinic, we would have record of it, but that would be considered part of someone’s medical record," she wrote. "Employees also have the option of receiving their vaccine through another provider and we would not have record of that."

Kootenai Health also does not currently require employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, "however it is strongly encouraged," according to an email from Caiti Bobbitt, KH spokeswoman. "We continue to have employees choosing to receive the vaccination, and at this time Kootenai Health has vaccinated 1,830 employees."

She said that number does not include those who have been vaccinated in a different location.

KH employs about 3,500 people.

The Press has not received any reports of Kootenai County businesses requiring vaccinations of their workers.

Meanwhile, new case count continues to fall. PHD reported 16 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, with nine of those in Kootenai County.

In the past week, PHD has seen 96 new cases. In comparison, in a six-day stretch from Dec. 7 to Dec. 12, it had 1,915 new cases.

The state's positivity rate for the week ending July 3 was 3.6% based on 11,850 tests, up slightly from 3.1% the previous week.

PHD's positivity rate fell to 5.1% based on 1,622 PCR tests, the lowest in nearly 3 months.

Kootenai County's positivity rate was 5.3% based on 1,141 PCR tests, down from 9.3% a month ago.

In Idaho, there have been 195,696 cases of coronavirus have been detected since the pandemic began, and 2,163 Idahoans have died from COVID-19, according the state website.

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