BOISE – A state panel of medical experts is asking Idaho’s governor for a statewide mask mandate, hospitals are running out of space for COVID-19 patients and the week has been marked with record numbers of new cases and deaths.
So far, at least 671 Idaho residents have died from the coronavirus, and a record high of 1,290 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Wednesday alone, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, followed by 1,265 new cases Thursday. More than 69,500 Idaho residents have been confirmed to have the illness since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, Idaho health officials have reported the first flu deaths of the season. Here’s a look on developments in the coronavirus pandemic across Idaho:
• Idaho hospitals are running out of space for patients as COVID-19 tears through their communities. Idaho hospitals have reported more than 200 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 every day since Oct. 12. On Monday, the most recent data available, there were nearly 300 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Jeanie Gentry, CEO of Steele Memorial Medical Center in Salmon, told the Idaho Statesman the facility is short about 40% of its staffers because they’ve been exposed or sickened by COVID-19. Dr. James Souza with St. Luke’s Health System says the state is running out of time to intervene before medical facilities are overwhelmed.
• The public health agency that handles Ada County and other nearby counties, Central District Health, says the measures currently in place in Boise and the surrounding area aren’t enough to slow the spread of the virus. Communicable Disease Control Manager Kimberly Link says people need to live as if there were stay-at-home orders in place, even though there currently aren’t any stay-at-home mandates. Link told the district’s health board members Wednesday night that being out in the community means being exposed to a high risk of coronavirus.
• The state’s Disaster Medical Advisory Community sent a letter to Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Tuesday asking him to impose a statewide mask mandate. The committee, which was tasked with setting Idaho’s triage guidelines during an emergency, said a mask mandate would slow the spread of the virus and help hospitals avoid having to ration care. Little has so far declined to issue any mask orders, instead urging residents to choose to wear masks on their own. His repeated requests have had little effect in many areas of the state, and even counties with local mask mandates, like Ada County, have little to no enforcement of the rules. The medical panel isn’t the first group of experts to ask the governor for a mask mandate – Treasure Valley healthcare leaders and the South Central Public Health District board have made similar requests to no avail.
• The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced Wednesday the state’s first two flu-related deaths this season. Both individuals – a Blaine County man older than 60 and a Twin Falls County woman older than 80 – also had COVID-19 when they died. Influenza and COVID-19 are separate diseases, but health officials fear that co-infections could be especially harmful to patients. Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, the state’s flu surveillance coordinator, said everyone should get their yearly flu vaccine as soon as possible.
- In the neighboring state of Utah, thousands of minks at fur farms have died because of the coronavirus so far. That’s raised fears among some that Idaho’s mink industry could be impacted, but Idaho state veterinarian Dr. Bill Barton said Thursday that no such cases have been reported in Idaho so far. In Utah, the minks were likely sickened by infected humans who worked at the farms. Minks are susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, and more than 1 million animals have been culled after outbreaks in the Netherlands, Denmark and Spain.
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