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News >  Idaho

Idaho primary care clinics say COVID surge mirrors last fall

Aug. 11, 2021 Updated Wed., Aug. 11, 2021 at 7:21 p.m.

Employees schedule COVID-19 tests and prepare test kits on Nov. 24 at Primary Health Medical Group’s clinic in Boise.  (Courtesy of Otto Kitsinger)
Employees schedule COVID-19 tests and prepare test kits on Nov. 24 at Primary Health Medical Group’s clinic in Boise. (Courtesy of Otto Kitsinger)
By Rebecca Boone Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho’s largest independent primary medical care system is reporting coronavirus numbers that mirror the surge last fall, and a Boise-area hospital is again putting some elective surgeries on hold. The numbers don’t bode well for the coming weeks, one health official says.

“I’m seeing a fire, and I can’t put it out,” said Dr. David Peterman, a pediatrician and the CEO of Primary Health Group. “It’s already too late.”

Statewide, the number of newly reported coronavirus cases each day is the highest it has been since January, according to numbers from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. And the rate of positive coronavirus tests done at Primary Health’s 21 clinics in southwestern Idaho over the past two and a half weeks is now at 20%. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that communities aim to keep positivity rates below 5% to help control the spread of the virus.

“The visits to our urgent care yesterday were the highest they’ve ever been in the whole history of the company,” with 1,500 urgent care patients, Peterman said Tuesday. “And those reporting respiratory symptoms is comparable to November 2020. As you recall, back then the hospitals were filled, and everything was shut down.”

Throughout the pandemic, surges in virus numbers have affected primary care providers first, followed in a week or two by an increase in hospitalizations and Intensive Care Unit patients.

“For the last 18 to 24 months, unfortunately, Primary Health has been 100 percent accurate in terms of predicting every surge,” Peterman said. “Over the last four weeks, whether we look at the number of patients with respiratory symptoms, the number of visits, the number of positive tests or the positivity rate, they’re all just skyrocketing.”

Some Idaho hospitals are bracing for an influx of patients. St. Luke’s Regional Health System announced on its website Tuesday that it was placing some elective surgeries and procedures on hold because of “significant COVID-19 activity resulting in hospitalization in the community.”

Right now, the pause affects only surgeries and procedures that require an overnight stay and that can be delayed without negative consequences, the hospital system said. Other changes intended to maintain hospital capacity will be made as needed.

Saint Alphonsus Regional Health System hasn’t announced any broad-scale surgery postponements, but it is evaluating each procedure on a case-by-case basis, spokesman Mark Snider said Tuesday. Some procedures have been rescheduled for a variety of reasons including an influx of COVID patients, staffing resources and other factors, he said.

The positivity rate for coronavirus tests administered by Saint Alphonsus was about 18.4% as of Monday, Snider said.

The latest surge comes as schools are preparing to re-open statewide and as the highly infectious delta variant continues to spread. People who are vaccinated can become infected and spread the delta variant, though they are protected against more severe illness. At Primary Health, about 16% of 240 recent positive COVID tests were in people who had been vaccinated, Peterman said.

It’s vital that people resume wearing masks indoors – including children in schools, Peterman said.

“I couldn’t care less whether your kids use sanitizer. I couldn’t care less that kids are distanced,” Peterman said. “But I do care that they use masks.”

So far, more than 205,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported statewide since the pandemic began, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, causing more than 2,200 deaths. About 769,300 residents have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine – a vaccination rate of about 51%.

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