From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Trusting and believing in Idahoans

I was born and raised in Idaho. It is where I choose to live and work. I enjoy the beautiful weather and breathtaking scenery of my home state, and I trust the people and professionals who live here. I am, and always will be, a proud Idahoan. We are extremely fortunate to live in such an amazing place.

As an Idahoan, I think of myself as independent. But the reality is that I depend on others almost every day. Most of us do this without even thinking about it. Our lives are intertwined in many ways. We rely on others to build the roads we drive on, deliver goods to the stores we shop in, and help us when we need to buy a car or a home. We, ultimately, need each other.

We all offer and seek expertise and support in our daily lives. When a pipe breaks in my home, I look to an expert, a plumber, to assess and fix the issue. I will trust the plumber because this is something I do not know how to do myself. I don’t understand the intricacies of the plumbing system in my home, and I need an expert. I trust the plumber because this person has spent many hours and years perfecting his craft.

That’s just one example. I seek experts almost every day. When I have a problem with my car, I reach out to my son, who is a master certified car technician, for help. When our dogs become ill, we have a trusted veterinarian we visit. When my children headed to college, I trusted (and still trust) the teachers and educators to prepare them for their careers.

And, when I am ill, I trust my doctor to make sure I get the most effective advice and treatment to get me back on my feet.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: COVID-19 myths and misinformation: Setting the record straight

The misinformation and disinformation available on social media and other communication channels shows no sign of slowing down. At the Department of Health and Welfare, it is our responsibility and obligation to share accurate and timely information with all Idahoans. It is important to us that you have a place to turn to and a source for truth.

There is still much to learn about the coronavirus and COVID-19. New information from peer-reviewed studies accepted by the scientific community becomes available all the time. This is information from the experts that we can all trust. We are committed to sharing what we know now and will continue to share new information as it becomes available. Below is some of the false and misleading information we continue to see online, and my response to that information, based on discussions and consultations with the experts at DHW.

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FICTION: Vaccines are failing and the vaccinated are spreading the Delta variant of COVID-19.

FACT: In a phone briefing in August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director stated that a small number of vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant can have a similar viral load as infected unvaccinated people. A rumor quickly spread that the director said that the COVID-19 vaccines are failing.

The truth is that vaccinated people in Idaho are five times less likely than unvaccinated people to contract Delta, making it much harder for them to spread it to others. The vaccines are not failing – they provide excellent protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19. But they are not perfect, and it is possible to become infected even after vaccination. However, people who receive the vaccine and do become infected are less likely to have serious illness resulting in hospitalization or death.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccine information on VAERS, cancer, and efficacy

Misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines is everywhere. But the fact is that the COVID-19 vaccine is the very best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from serious illness and hospitalization. It’s safe, and it’s effective. And it will help keep you from having to go to the hospital.

Here are some common questions and answers about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Are all events reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) caused by vaccination?

No. VAERS data alone cannot determine if the reported adverse event was caused by a COVID-19 vaccination.

Everyone, including patients and their healthcare providers, can report events to VAERS, even if it is not clear whether a vaccine caused the problem. Some VAERS reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.

Serious adverse events reported into VAERS are studied by vaccine safety experts who look for unusually high numbers of health problems, or a pattern of problems, after people receive a vaccine. The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) reviews VAERS reports that indicate a serious adverse event for Idaho residents.

Recently, the number of deaths reported to VAERS after COVID-19 vaccination has been misinterpreted and misreported as deaths proven to be caused by vaccination. However, reports to VAERS of adverse events after vaccination, including deaths, do not necessarily mean that a vaccine caused a health problem.

Learn more about VAERS.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Correcting COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation takes all of us

Every day, our public health officials, doctors, nurses, and others are responding to the ongoing pandemic and the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in our own state. They are exhausted and disheartened. And, on another front, we face the continued challenge of responding to the overabundance of misinformation and disinformation related to the virus on social media. Much of this information could be harmful.

I want to address information you might see on social media platforms that is patently false and misleading.

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FICTION: The mRNA vaccine alters your DNA.

FACT: No. (Read more about this in my DHW Voice blog from Aug. 27)

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FICTION: Public health officials, doctors, nurses, hospitals (and others in healthcare) get paid to specifically talk about the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging others to get the vaccine.

FACT: No, this is false.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Booster doses now available for some people

Late last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized and recommended booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine for certain people.

Our No. 1 goal is to have as many Idahoans as possible protected from COVID-19 by getting vaccinated, and last week’s authorization of a booster allows more at-risk Americans to receive additional protection. The new recommendation adds to the number of people who may seek a third dose of vaccine; FDA and CDC authorized and recommended a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for people with compromised immune systems in August.

Who’s eligible for the Pfizer booster?

  • Adults who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and are 65 years and older, live in a long-term care facility, or are 50-64 with certain medical conditions should receive the booster.
  • Adults younger than 50 with certain medical conditions who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six month ago may choose to receive a booster.
  • Adults less than 65 years who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least 6 months ago and are at increased risk because of the work they do (such as teachers and frontline workers) or because they live in an institutional setting may choose to receive a booster.

Where can I get my Pfizer booster?

Boosters are available at pharmacies, clinics, and healthcare providers statewide. They are not available to the public at hospitals. Use the Vaccine Finder to find locations, the vaccine brands available, and walk-in or appointment details. Neither proof of eligibility nor a prescription is required, and all doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are free of charge.

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A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Thank a healthcare worker today

Last Tuesday at our weekly press briefing, we were fortunate to have Dr. Jim Souza, chief physician executive at St. Luke’s Health System, as our guest. One of the reporters asked him what we can do as citizens of Idaho to help our hospitals and our communities. His answer resonated with me, and I hope you feel the same.

He reminded us that the healthcare workers are under extreme stress, and we should thank them with our actions. We should all get vaccinated. We should all wear a mask. And, we should all “be brave … be the one setting the example” for others. I would encourage all of us to think about the crushing weight that this pandemic has on our healthcare workers. They are watching their patients struggle to breathe, and even die, often more than once a day. If it is hard to hear this, imagine how hard it is to watch.

We owe them our gratitude, and we have a responsibility to them and our communities to do what we can to remain safe and keep others safe from COVID-19.

If you weren’t able to listen to the media briefing:

The numbers are still going in the wrong direction. As of Sept. 18, the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICUs and using ventilators across the state is the highest it has ever been. There are nearly twice as many patients needing ventilators (112) when compared to the previous peak of the pandemic.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Crisis Standards of Care

Idaho activated Crisis Standards of Care for the entire state on Thursday, Sept. 16.

What are crisis standards of care?

Crisis standards of care are guidelines that help healthcare providers and healthcare systems decide how to deliver the best care possible under the extraordinary circumstances of a disaster or a public health emergency.

The goal of crisis standards of care is to save as many lives as possible. They guide decisions made by hospitals about how to allocate scarce resources, such as hospital beds, medications, or ventilators.

How would crisis standards of care affect me and my care?

When crisis standards of care are in effect, people who need medical care may experience care that is different from what they expect.

For example, patients admitted to a hospital may find there are no hospital beds or that beds have been set up in other rooms or hallways. In some extreme circumstances, ventilator or intensive care unit beds may need to be used for those who are most likely to survive, while patients who are not likely to survive may not be able to receive one.

The goal in all cases is to provide the best medical care possible with the resources that are available and to save the greatest number of lives.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Idaho is now under Crisis Standards of Care statewide, and our hospitals and healthcare systems need our help

The Department of Health and Welfare announced Thursday that Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) was being implemented statewide. The decision came after St. Luke’s Health System requested that CSC be activated.

The CSC Activation Advisory Committee met late Wednesday afternoon, and the decision was made to activate early Thursday morning. It was a thoughtful, heart-wrenching decision. No one wants this, but this is where we are. Our hospitals and healthcare systems have reached their resource limits. There is simply too much demand for care from people who are sick with COVID-19. There are not enough beds, rooms, staff or other resources for Idahoans who need hospitalization. CSC was the absolute last resort. The situation is dire in Idaho.

Although CSC was activated statewide by the Department of Health and Welfare, the hospitals will implement according to their own policies and available resources. Each hospital will make patient-care decisions based on the current situation at each hospital.

After our announcement early yesterday, the Idaho Hospital Association, St. Luke’s Health System, Saint Alphonsus Health System, Minidoka Memorial Hospital, and Portneuf Medical Center held a press conference in the afternoon.

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COVID-19 Q&A: The Delta variant is more contagious

What is the Delta variant and what should I know about it?

The COVID-19 virus Delta variant has mutations, or changes, from the original virus strain. The Delta variant is more contagious and spreads more than twice as easily from one person to another, compared with earlier strains. Areas where many people are not vaccinated have more cases of COVID-19, and we are in a race against time to vaccinate more people before new variants form.

Higher numbers of vaccinated people lower the chance for the virus to spread and help prevent new variants. Data show that the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, and work well against the Delta variant. Vaccination is the best way to protect you, your family, and your community.

Should vaccinated people worry they are spreading the virus?

Although the COVID-19 vaccines offer protection, they are not perfect. There will be vaccine breakthrough infections. However, breakthrough infections represent a very small number of cases around the country, and less than 1 percent of cases in Idaho. In addition, infections among vaccinated people are much less likely to result in serious illness, hospitalization, or death.

If you get vaccinated, your risk of infection is around 3.5-fold lower than if you had not gotten vaccinated, your risk of getting ill from COVID is over 8-fold lower, and your risk of hospitalization or death is around 25-fold lower.

There is evidence that some vaccinated people can spread the virus if they get infected with the Delta variant; that is why it is important that in areas of substantial and high transmission, vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoors to prevent spread and protect themselves and others.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The activation of Crisis Standards of Care is a call-to-action for all Idahoans

Because of a surge in COVID-19 patients who need to be in the hospital in North Idaho, Crisis Standards of Care was activated in Idaho on Sept. 6 after a request from Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene. This was a first for Idaho.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) activated Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) in accordance with IDAPA 16.02.09 – Crisis Standards of Care For Healthcare Entities in the Panhandle Health District and the North Central Health District (Public Health Districts 1 and 2).

No one takes this step lightly. Not Kootenai Health. Not the hospitals and healthcare organizations in northern Idaho. Not the healthcare workers. And not us. However, the goal is to extend care to as many patients as possible and save as many lives as possible. It means that we have a plan for what to do when there is a limited supply of resources available.

This was something I fervently hoped to avoid, and it was a difficult day for me personally when we activated Crisis Standards of Care.

What should you do? How can you help?

First, I would tell you to be careful. Wear your seatbelt. Take your prescribed medications. This is not the time to engage in any high-risk activity that might land you in the hospital … any hospital. Although we are all focused on North Idaho healthcare facilities right now, all hospitals and healthcare facilities in the state are stretched thin. We need to protect the capacity they have for our fellow Idahoans who need immediate care or have COVID-19 that requires hospitalization. 

COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in Idaho, and 91.6 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations from May 15 – Sept. 4, 2021, were not fully vaccinated. Please choose to get vaccinated, wear a mask in public places, and stay home when you are sick. The best defense we have against COVID-19 is the vaccine, and it is safe and effective. You can read all about COVID-19 vaccine safety and monitoring on the Centers for Disease and Prevention website.

Continue reading From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The activation of Crisis Standards of Care is a call-to-action for all Idahoans