Thursday, October 21, 2021
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'COVID is here to stay'

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | October 13, 2021 1:00 AM

A doctor at Saint Alphonsus Health System in Boise said Tuesday that for the first time in three months they saw a small decline in COVID-19 spread in their communities.

“This creates significant hope that we have finally reached a peak,” said Steven Nemerson, chief clinical officer.

However, he added that it’s too soon to state that with certainty. What would help, Nemerson said, is if more Idahoans get vaccinated.

“It’s too unpredictable at this time,” he said.

Nemerson said the situation with COVID-19 has gone from pandemic to endemic. It’s moved from a short-term phase to a long-term disease. There will be more variants and more people will be hospitalized, he said.

“Sadly, I'm here to tell you that we've lost the war and COVID is here to stay,” Nemerson said.

The Department of Health and Welfare held a media briefing about COVID-19 Tuesday.

Dr. Christine Hahn, state epidemiologist, said she hopes that over time, the coronavirus variants will be milder and more tolerable than delta.

But, like Nemerson, she couldn’t say that with certainty.

“One thing we've learned, we do not understand this virus and it will continue to surprise us,” Hahn said.

Kootenai Health saw another decline in coronavirus patients, dropping to 127 from 134, but there remained 37 patients requiring critical care.

KH Chief Physician Executive Karen Cabell said that in August, at the beginning of the current surge, many procedures that could be delayed for six to eight weeks were delayed to accommodate the COVID-19 surge.

Now that eight weeks have passed, previously delayed cases are being re-evaluated so they can prioritize at-risk patients.

Those cases that are now deemed necessary are proceeding as staffing and capacity allow, Cabell said.

“We have also been able to begin accepting a small number of select patient transfers from other facilities," she said. "These are generally very ill patients who require the higher level of care they are able to receive at Kootenai Health.”

Panhandle Health District reported an additional eight deaths attributed to the virus in Kootenai County, bringing the total to 350. Of those, 13 were under the age of 50 and 323, 92%, were people over the age of 60. No one under the age of 18 has died of the coronavirus in Kootenai County and on Tuesday, Kootenai Health had one pediatric patient.

In Kootenai County, 62,194 people age 12 and over, 43% of the eligible population, are fully vaccinated.

According to a chart shown by state officials Tuesday, 88% of COVID-19 cases were people not vaccinated, leaving 12% of them “breakthrough” cases. It also showed that 87% of deaths were the unvaccinated. Two months ago, in mid-August, Gov. Brad Little said 99 percent of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Idaho since Jan. 1 were people not vaccinated.

The rising breakthrough cases are a reason health officials are urging those eligible to get booster shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released studies last month that show the COVID-19 vaccines wane over time.

Dr. Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist, said younger people are dying from COVID-19. She said they were seeing a “tripling of deaths” of those under the age of 40.

In Idaho, per the state’s coronavirus website, 15 people under the age of 40 have died due to the virus. Most coronavirus-related deaths in Idaho, 2,798, or 89%, were people over the age of 60.

Hahn said the monoclonal antibody administration site run by Heritage Health at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds treated 100 patients since last week.

While pleased with that, she said monoclonal antibodies are not a vaccine, but provide “passive, short-term immunity.”

“Don’t consider these as an alternative,” she said.

Hahn said they are looking forward to a vaccine for kids 5-11 being approved soon by the FDA, which will meet on it later this month.

She called it “a potential game changer for schools.”

Health officials continued to emphasize the same message they have for months for virus protection: Vaccinations, masks and social distancing.

Nemerson urged people to be guarded and meet in social pods with friends who share their beliefs.

“Be careful whom you chose to socialize with,” he said.