Idaho health official: Lessons have been learned after 2 years of virus | Northwest

As Idaho nears the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, state health officials are taking note of the progress made in understanding and treating the disease.

Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said Tuesday the weeks before March 2020, when the first official case of COVID-19 was detected in the state, was “a time of uncertainty and concern about what it would mean for Idaho.”

Jeppesen said the tools to deal with the coronavirus were limited, there was no vaccine and scientists and health officials faced a steep learning curve about the disease.

Jeppesen made his remarks during an online media briefing Tuesday.

The turning point in the pandemic, he said, was December 2020, when the first vaccines arrived. They were “an effective tool to counteract the virus. More treatment options increased.”

Jeppesen then noted that in the spring of 2021, people thought the worst might be over. But in the summer, the delta variant emerged, followed by the omicron variant.

Health care capacity in the state was taxed to overflow, but by then health officials had gained much more knowledge about how to deal with the surge.

There’s still more to learn, Jeppesen said. “After two years we are all tired of the pandemic. The coronavirus has disrupted all areas of life,” including time people can spend with their families and friends, as well as the serious loss of life.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “the pandemic is not over.”

Currently there is ample testing, plentiful masks and effective treatments. More Idahoans have some immunity, and Jeppesen said health officials hope to turn the focus more quickly into ways to mitigate stress on health care facilities.

That will include a shift in collecting and reporting data, announced last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that monitors community levels of cases and aims to protect those people most at risk of infection.

The new reporting will focus on community outbreaks and recommend actions to be taken quickly.

“Despite improvements in the past few weeks,” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator for the Division of Public Health, “some communities in Idaho continue to have high rates of outbreaks and hospitalizations. We need to continue to take appropriate measures to further reduce the impact of COVID-19.”

The state is still processing the CDC’s new guidelines and not all the information is available online; However, Jeppesen expressed assurance that his department is committed to providing accurate and timely information to the public.

Public Health – Idaho North Central District reported two new COVID-19 deaths and 13 infections Tuesday.

Both deaths were Lewis County men, one in his 70s and one in his 80s. Lewis, Idaho and Nez Perce counties reported one new case each and Clearwater County had 10 new cases.

Whitman and Garfield counties are shifting away from daily case count reporting.

On its website Tuesday, Whitman County Health Department reported low community-level transmission. State and national data reporting systems are lagging in their reporting of Whitman County’s cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days. Currently, the Washington State Health Department is reporting 110 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in Whitman County in the past seven days. The percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in the past seven days is 2.9%, the health department reported.

Garfield County did not update its information Tuesday. Asotin County added four cases, no deaths and no hospitalizations.

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