COVID-19 vaccine recommendations and a groundbreaking child welfare system: An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

Today, the Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee made a recommendation about which populations should be prioritized for Phases 1a and 1b in Idaho’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. The recommendation will be delivered to Gov. Brad Little, who will make the final decisions.

CVAC is recommending Phase 1a include healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Skilled nurses and those working in assisted living facilities and intermediate care facilities are counted as healthcare workers in this phase.

CVAC is recommending the following types of essential workers being prioritized for vaccination in Phase 1b:

  • First responders, including fire, police, protective services and community support personnel
  • Pre-K through 12th grade school staff and teachers and daycare workers
  • Correctional and detention facility staff, except medical staff already in Phase 1a
  • Food processing workers
  • Grocery and convenience store workers
  • Idaho National Guard
  • Other essential workers not already included and unable to telework or social distance at work

Idaho is expecting to receive approximately 13,650 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine by mid-December in its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine, and then additional doses in the two weeks after that. Equal numbers of second doses will be shipped a couple of weeks after the first doses for people who received those. It takes about two weeks for the human body to build immunity after a vaccine.

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COVID-19 Q&A: COVID-19 Vaccine

Q: Vaccines for COVID-19 seem to be getting closer to the necessary approvals so they can be distributed to states and then given to residents. Is Idaho ready to receive the vaccine shipments?  

A: Idaho will be ready when the first shipments of the vaccine are sent. We don’t know yet exactly when that will happen, but we anticipate it could be before the end of the year. We have been enrolling healthcare providers, so they can administer the vaccine, and we have purchased seven ultra-cold freezers – one for each of Idaho’s seven local public health districts, to help store vaccines that need to be kept very cold prior to being used throughout the state.

The vaccine will be shipped after Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is issued by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but will not be administered in the state until a recommendation on its use is issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). It is anticipated that the ACIP recommendation will occur very quickly after the FDA approval. 

The manufacturer of one of the vaccines (Pfizer and BioNTech) requested an EUA on Nov. 20. The FDA’s Vaccine’s & Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) is scheduled to review vaccine data from the manufacturer on Dec. 10 and make a recommendation to the FDA. If the FDA issues an EUA, then ACIP will hold an emergency meeting to consider recommendations for use of the vaccine. Immediately after ACIP’s recommendation, vaccine would be shipped to other vaccine providers from the vaccine manufacturer.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Celebrate Thanksgiving safely and an update on our strategic plan

In the past week, Idaho’s COVID-19 case count was above 1,000 for six out of seven days. On Nov. 17, Idaho recorded 35 deaths, the highest number to date for one day since the beginning of the pandemic. This is heartbreaking. It is unacceptable. We can do better. We have to do better.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is a cause for concern. Gatherings have shown to be a main source for the spread of new cases. Traditionally, my wife and I host our extended family Thanksgiving dinner. Just last week, I had difficult conversations with my mom and other family members letting them know that we would not be hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our home. And I strongly encouraged them to celebrate Thanksgiving with their immediate households. I want to keep my family safe. I want them to be healthy for future holidays, so this is small sacrifice for the greater good.

The best and safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is with only the members of your household. Virtual activities are also completely safe. If you do celebrate in-person with people outside of your household it’s very important to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus.

We know what helps limit the spread of COVID-19: wearing a mask, physical distancing, washing your hands, avoiding social gatherings and large crowds, and staying home when sick. These are the most effective tools we have to fight this virus and protect our families and friends, keep our hospitals operating within their capacity, and protect our small businesses.

Hospitals in Idaho and throughout the United States are getting stretched very thin. Widespread holiday gatherings, especially ones in which the above precautions are not taken, could make a difficult situation much worse. Please be safe this Thanksgiving and do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

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COVID-19 Q&A: Hospital capacity, getting tested, and Thanksgiving

Q: I keep hearing that hospital officials in Idaho are very concerned about capacity, and they might have to implement crisis standards of care. What does that mean? If I needed life-saving care, would a hospital really turn me away?

A: We have been emphasizing this since the start of the pandemic: Hospitals, including those in Idaho, have limited capacity. When they no longer have enough staff or beds or equipment to treat patients, they will have to divert patients to other hospitals, turn people away if other hospitals are not accepting diverted patients, and possibly set up field hospitals. Healthcare will have to be rationed. Idaho has a Crisis Standards of Care Plan that outlines what this looks like and what would trigger it to be implemented.

However, we don’t want to get to that point!  We can PREVENT it by following the recommended guidelines and wearing a mask when we’re around others who don’t live with us, keeping 6 feet between ourselves and others we don’t live with, washing or sanitizing our hands often, and staying home if we feel sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a scientific brief that says that mask-wearing protects others, but it also protects the person wearing it. That’s new, and worth remembering. It’s a very small sacrifice to wear a mask, and when most of us do, it lowers the risk of infection for all of us. That also helps our hospitals and healthcare workers. Fewer people get sick and require hospital-level care, which can be provided when it’s needed.

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As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Idaho, Gov. Little announces a return to Stage 2: An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

The daily number of cases in the United States is now soaring; over 160,000 just yesterday. In Idaho, we have had day after day of more than 1,000 new cases. On Wednesday, Nov. 11, we had 1,693 new cases in Idaho, the highest number in one day. This can’t continue. It must not continue. Our friends and our neighbors are getting sick. Our frontline workers are stressed. Our hospitals are reaching capacity, which means that they may not be able to provide life-saving care when it’s needed. I know this is not what we all want for Idaho.

Earlier today, Gov. Brad Little announced that Idaho is returning to a modified Stage 2. This includes:

  • Limiting gatherings, both public and private, to less than 10 people, where appropriate physical distancing and precautionary measures can occur. Religious and political institutions are excluded.
  • Physical distance of six feet is required between you and anyone not in your household.
  • Continuing to require masks to be worn at all long-term care facilities.
  • Asking restaurant patrons to be seated at all times (when not using the restroom or entering or exiting the establishment).
  • Encouraging employers to allow their employees to telework.
  • Minimizing non-essential travel.

Additionally, Gov. Little signed a new executive order to mobilize the national guard (100 guardsmen) to help as needed to expand Idaho’s ability to access critical care statewide (e.g. facility decontamination, supply distribution, COVID-19 screenings, etc.).

At the Governor’s press conference, we heard from a young mother, Amelia, who had contracted COVID-19 while she was pregnant and a St. Luke’s respiratory therapist, Rachel, who cares for COVID-19 patients, including Amelia. Their heartfelt pleas to follow recommended precautions and wear masks resonated with me, and I hope it resonated with you.

As Rachel (St. Luke’s) said, “We are a community. We need to take care of each other. The nurses are members of this community. I want to protect you, and I want you to protect me. I am begging you as a healthcare provider; help us take care of each other.”

Her plea is timely. As you may have read, St. Luke’s Health System announced Thursday that in order to proactively manage its capacity for care, it will temporarily stop scheduling certain elective surgeries and procedures that can be delayed 90 or more days without negative consequences. This temporary pause goes into effect Monday, Nov. 16, and will be in place for the next six weeks until Friday, Dec. 25. This is the reality of what is happening in Idaho. We must do all we can to protect our own families, slow the spread of COVID-19, and preserve healthcare capacity.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A big thank you to all veterans, a plea for small gatherings, and COVID-19 help for all Idahoans

You may not realize it, but Wednesday, Nov. 11, is Veterans Day. It’s a very special day that often gets overlooked in the range of holidays throughout the year.

Many of our family, friends, and neighbors serve or have served in the armed forces. I want to thank all veterans for the many sacrifices you’ve made in service to our country. That is a sacred duty, and I am grateful for it.

There are several businesses that offer special benefits and deals to veterans on Nov. 11. See the links below for more information:

Please do your part

The nation and Idaho are seeing some consistently alarming increases in COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations across Idaho. Please do your part to protect yourself and others from the virus that causes COVID-19.

This virus is tricky because it may not cause symptoms for some people but is still very contagious. This is often referred to as asymptomatic spread, which means those who are infected don’t know they are and spread it to others who aren’t as lucky.

This will become even more important as we plan our holiday family gatherings. I’m not naive enough to think we will all stay home and not get together with family and loved ones. It might feel strange and off-putting to wear a mask with your extended family members in a family home. But making that small sacrifice to protect those who are closest to us will protect them, particularly those who are at high risk of severe disease.

There are ways to gather safely during the upcoming holidays, and I implore you to follow the guidelines and wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart as much as possible, wash your hands often, and stay home if you feel sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has several tips for how to gather safely for the holidays, as well as risk factors to consider as you plan your gatherings.

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COVID Q&A: Family gatherings are COVID-19 hotspots

Q: Where is Idaho seeing the most spread of COVID-19?

A: Public health officials are seeing the most spread in Idaho at smaller gatherings of families and friends, where people are not following the recommended guidelines. We understand — it feels weird to wear a mask around people you know and love. But the reality is that the virus doesn’t care how strange or uncomfortable it feels to stay 6 feet apart and to wear a mask around your friends and family. It will take advantage of the situation and spread among your loved ones if precautions are not taken.

Asymptomatic spread is the most complicated part of the coronavirus. Sometimes people just don’t know they have been infected and they unwittingly infect their friends and family. The solution is simple – everyone should wear face coverings and stay 6 feet apart. It’s very important to be diligent about those simple things to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A reminder on to safely celebrate the upcoming holidays and an update on our strategic plan

How are you preparing for the upcoming holidays? If you are like me, you are looking forward to decorating the tree, seeing the light displays in your neighborhood, pumpkin pie, and spending time with family.

I want each of you to enjoy the upcoming season. And even more than that, I want everyone to be safe during their holiday celebrations. I know we all want to spend the holidays with our families. And, I know we also want to keep our loved ones safe and healthy.

What we know today is that most of the new COVID-19 cases in Idaho are coming from smaller gatherings. These gatherings create transmissible moments as families and friends spend time in close proximity to one another.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventions gives numerous tips on how to celebrate safety. I hope you will take time to review them as you plan for the holiday season. And, keep reading my blog for ideas and reminders about the holidays.

Making progress toward Strategic Goal 2: Protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults

Finding safe, permanent homes for children who have experienced abuse or neglect is a top priority for the work we do at the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW). Children who have experienced trauma need and deserve permanency in their living situations in order to heal, develop, and thrive. Lack of permanency and stability is detrimental to children’s sense of safety, security, and overall well-being.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Flu vaccine, COVID numbers, and more

Q: Does the flu vaccine make it more likely that people will get COVID-19?

A: The flu vaccine does not make people susceptible to COVID-19. There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccination increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19.

In fact, getting a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and the people you spend time with from getting the flu, which is also a serious illness.

Some of the best ways to protect yourself from COVID-19 are to wear a mask and avoid spending long periods of time indoors with people who don’t live with you.

More information on the flu vaccine and COVID-19 is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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We must remain diligent in our fight against COVID-19: A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

Across the United States — from news organizations, healthcare organizations, and public health departments – the message is clear, we must remain diligent against COVID-19, particularly as cases continue to rise and hospitals fill up. As winter approaches and Americans grow weary of masks and physical distancing, we cannot let up. We must not let our guard down. We must continue to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from this virus.

If we tire of taking preventative measures, then we run the risk of seeing our friends and family unnecessarily exposed. One third of Idahoans have underlying health conditions, which means all of us interact with someone who is at high risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if infected.

I know that it is not always easy to follow the recommended precautions, particularly when we participate in small social gatherings or family get-togethers. This will be especially true as we head into the holidays. But it is precisely those friends and family you protect when you wear a mask, maintain six feet of distance, cover coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often, and stay home when you’re sick.

Thank you for doing your part to combat the spread of COVID-19.

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