Like other states around the country, Idaho has unfortunately had cases and deaths related to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities since the start of the pandemic in Idaho in mid-March.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for the vulnerable residents of those facilities, which include skilled nursing homes, assisted living and memory care, and intermediate care facilities. Idaho has about 400 of those facilities.
Public health officials at the state and local public health districts continue to work closely with long-term care facilities throughout the state to make sure they have access to testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and the latest guidance for how to slow or stop transmission of COVID-19 for these highly vulnerable people. Much of this guidance has been posted at https://coronavirus.idaho.gov/ltc/.
But it has been challenging. The virus that causes COVID-19 is new, and the world is still learning how to treat and contain it. It is such a contagious virus that it can spread easily among vulnerable residents in congregate living facilities. A confirmed COVID-positive resident in a facility is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of care or the performance of that facility.
Long-term care facilities have received guidance on how to respond to even a single positive COVID-19 case among residents or staff members, so that appropriate precautions are taken for all residents. In addition, all residents and their families are to be notified by the facility when a resident or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.
Testing residents and staff in long-term care facilities for COVID-19 is an important strategy to diagnose the infection early and prevent further spread. Testing specimens from residents of long-term care facilities who have symptoms compatible with COVID-19 has always been considered high priority at the Idaho Bureau of Laboratories.
The local public health districts have worked closely with facilities in their areas to ensure access to testing for symptomatic residents and staff members, at a minimum, including procuring adequate testing supplies. A lack of supplies early in the outbreak in Idaho was a challenge, but that is currently not as big a concern. There are now more testing options available, and the Long-Term Care Facility Strike Team has developed testing strategy guidance.
The department is committed to being open and transparent. We also are committed to protecting the privacy of individuals. It can be a challenge to balance these two priorities, particularly for residents of long-term care facilities. We have been working for some time to find a solution that does both, particularly as the number of cases has increased.
Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began posting COVID-19 nursing home data at https://data.cms.gov/stories/s/bkwz-xpvg. Similarly, the Department of Health and Welfare is now posting data from long-term care facilities with cases and deaths from COVID-19 weekly on Fridays at https://coronavirus.idaho.gov/ltc/.
You may notice that the data may not match if you’re comparing the numbers, but we are confident that the numbers posted by the Department of Health and Welfare accurately reflect the impact of COVID-19 in Idaho’s long-term care facilities. We continue to work diligently to help make sure long-term care facilities have the necessary tools to help prevent more COVID-19 cases and deaths among this special population of vulnerable Idahoans.
Tamara Prisock is the administrator of the Division of Licensing and Certification in the Department of Health and Welfare, which has regulatory authority over long-term care facilities. She is also a co-chair on the Long-Term Care Strike Team. Dr. Marcia Witte is an internal medicine physician who works for the Division of Public Health and co-chairs the strike team.