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North Idaho remains COVID hot spot

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | October 27, 2021 1:08 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Health officials said Tuesday the Panhandle region’s coronavirus positivity rate is nearly double the state’s, and they pointed to the area being home to many who oppose vaccinations as the reason why.

“That’s probably a fair statement,” said Dave Jeppesen, Department of Health and Welfare director, during a media briefing.

He noted that most areas of the state are seeing flat or declining COVID-19 numbers — but not North Idaho. Panhandle Health District had 1,755 new cases last week, and 1,200 the prior week.

PHD reported 500 COVID-related deaths as of Oct. 7. Two and half weeks later, the PHD's COVID-related deaths increased nearly 100 to 591.

While the state’s most recent positivity rate for the virus was 12%, PHD’s was 21% and Kootenai County’s was 20%. Boundary County’s positivity rate was 35%, while Shoshone County’s was 30%, placing those counties among the highest in the state.

Officials said North Idaho’s vaccination rate remains among the lowest in the state. PHD has 93,390 residents who are fully vaccinated, 44% of the eligible population. That's the lowest of the state’s seven health districts.

Many North Idaho residents are skeptical about the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of the coronavirus and don’t wear them, health officials said.

Dr. Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist, said North Idahoans are also not very helpful when it comes to contact tracing for the coronavirus.

“People are not as cooperative as in other parts of the state,” Turner said.

She said it “makes sense” that cases are higher in North Idaho, and the state faces “multiple challenges” as to what to do about it. Increased marketing might help, but even that's unlikely to change anything.

"The rate of vaccination means our message isn’t knocking the cover off the ball," Gov. Brad Little said during an AARP town hall meeting Tuesday.

State officials said that through Oct. 23, 86% of COVID-19 cases in Idaho are of the unvaccinated, which means breakthrough cases account for 14% of new cases.

They said a vaccinated person can get and transmit the coronavirus virus to other vaccinated people, but such cases are “relatively rare.”

The unvaccinated in Idaho, according to the state, account for about 89% of people hospitalized for COVID. Ninety-two percent of those in critical care and 86% of the COVID-related deaths are unvaccinated people.

Kootenai Health on Tuesday had 140 COVID inpatients, with 25 requiring critical care. One was under the age of 18.

Statewide, there are 570 hospital patients with COVID, 163 in critical care, and 91 on ventilators.

“It really has been a challenge to our entire health care network, from one end of the state to another,” Little said.

Vaccinations of kids ages 5 to 11 could begin soon.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted Tuesday that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 in that age group outweigh potential risks.

There's another step though even if FDA says OK: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have to decide whether to recommend the shots and which youngsters should get them.

Sarah Leeds, manager of the Idaho Immunization Program, said the state will be ready to begin administering thousands of doses to kids when the time arrives. The bulk of preordered vaccine doses for kids will go to public health districts and other providers, she said. Providers of the vaccine for kids will undergo training, too.