BOISE, Idaho – Idaho officials on Wednesday approved spending $5 million of federal coronavirus relief money to help hospitals hire additional staff to help care for a crush of COVID-19 patients.
The Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee also unanimously approved an additional $300,000 to train health care providers to administer a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes widely available, probably in 2021.
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen told the committee that many of the state’s hospitals are at the edge of their capacity. He said the state could have double the current number of COVID-19 patients by the end of December.
“Running out of hospital capacity is really where we don’t want to be,” he said. “That is something we are desperately trying to avoid.”
Johns Hopkins University has reported that Idaho has had nearly 95,000 confirmed infections and 874 deaths. State officials report that nearly one in five people tested receive positive results for the virus.
The $5 million will help hospitals hire traveling staff, who are increasingly more difficult to find as coronavirus cases rise in other states as well. The money must be spent by Dec. 30. That means hospitals will have to use their own money to hire and pay staff after that.
Jeppesen also said he expects the state will receive a limited supply of coronavirus vaccine as early as mid-December.
“Those initial vaccinations will go out health care workers,” he said. “But we want to be well prepared when we get larger volumes of vaccine to go out to the rest of the population of the state.”
Alex Adams, Republican Gov. Brad Little’s budget chief and chair of the Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee, told Jeppesen that information he’s heard about vaccines is positive news for Idaho.
“It gives me – and I’ll put on my old pharmacist hat – quite a bit of hope and optimism for what’s ahead,” said Adams, who is also the former executive director of the Idaho State Board of Pharmacy. “I know you and your team have put together very detailed and credible distribution plans to get this out there quickly to prioritized groups.”
After health care workers and emergency responders are vaccinated, people who are most vulnerable to the virus will receive priority for vaccinations, state officials have said.
Generally, older adults with preexisting health conditions have been most susceptible to serious illness or death because of the virus.
Idaho received $1.25 billion in coronavirus relief money earlier this year. About $200 million remains unallocated, Adams said.
Some money that has been allocated might not have been spent and Adams said the committee will likely meet again in early December to look at reallocating that leftover money.
He also said there has been some discussion in Congress that the deadline for spending the money could be extended past Dec. 30.
“We’re getting down into crunch time, and there’s a lot of moving parts and variables,” Adams said.
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