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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Child Protection and COVID-19: Pandemic is tough for everyone, but it can be especially hard for children

Q: How has the pandemic affected child welfare in Idaho?

A: The pandemic has affected child welfare in Idaho in all kinds of ways. Parents are stressed, children are stressed, everyone is stressed, and we are all staying home more than ever so we don’t get sick or make others sick. That can mean children and families have less support than ever before. This can be a tough combination for healthy relationships between parents and children.

It’s important to know these strange and unprecedented times are affecting all of us and we can all use a little extra support so situations don’t get out of control. There are resources available to help during these particularly hard times. The COVID Help Now Line offers statewide support to anyone who is feeling distress related to the pandemic. Responders can help talk through supports and coping strategies. It’s anonymous and available 8 a.m. -8 p.m. MT seven days a week by calling 866-947-5186.

It’s also important to remember that child protection is a responsibility for all of us, and if you have concerns about a family situation or a child’s safety, it’s important to reach out and report your concerns by calling the Idaho CareLine at 2-1-1.

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Slowing the spread of COVID-19 depends on you: A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

Gov. Brad Little at his press conference yesterday reminded us all that most of this battle against the spread of COVID-19 is about personal responsibility. We are asking Idahoans to wear a mask. Keep six feet of distance between yourself and others in public places. Wash your hands often. Cover coughs and sneezes. And, stay home if you are sick.

As we watch cases increase in Idaho, and we see the cases increase significantly in those ages 18-29, we have to ask ourselves: Are we doing all we can do to protect our families and communities? We all have to do our part.

Celebrating Halloween safely

As the weather turns colder, many of us may retreat indoors, hoping for safety among family and friends. Unfortunately, that is where we often see cases spreading – through smaller, more intimate gatherings.

And now we are approaching the holidays, a time where we cherish those moments with friends and family. And right around the corner is Halloween. Some Halloween traditions may look different this year to keep everyone safe during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is suggesting many ways you can both enjoy the holiday while keeping your family safe.. The CDC outlines plenty of ways families can have fun while avoiding being exposed to or spreading the virus.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Testing and Idaho schools

Q: I have heard there are testing programs for teachers and staff in Idaho schools. What are they?

There are a couple of different things happening on the testing front for schools.

The Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee, or CFAC, approved funding for the Department of Health and Welfare(DHW) to help expedite COVID-19 testing for teachers and school staff, specifically for those without insurance or if their insurance will not pay for the testing.

DHW is working very closely with Idaho’s local public health districts on subgrants to assist with agreements with testing entities, contact tracing, outbreaks in the school setting. One of the subgrant activities is for the local public health districts to implement agreements with testing facilities in their area. This helps to prioritize testing for teachers and school staff.

There are also funds in these subgrants to reimburse the testing facilities the PHDs have agreements with for the uninsured or underinsured teachers and school staff. DHW is also working on agreements with pharmacies, labs, and businesses to prioritize testing for teachers and school staff.

The agreements we’re implementing are for PCR tests (the gold standard for testing) that can be self-administered by teachers and school staff. The tests can be done at home and include a prepaid overnight shipping envelope to send to the contacted laboratories.

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Stay vigilant when it comes to COVID-19: A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

As it is for all Idahoans, it’s distressing for us at the Department of Health and Welfare to see COVID-19 case counts rising again. Without a vaccine or a proven therapeutic treatment, the answer to slow the spread of this virus is simple, and I can’t say it enough: Wear a mask, wash your hands often, keep six feet of physical distance between yourself and others, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home if you are sick.

I understand we are all tired of this virus, and anxious to return to a sense of normalcy. I want that, too, but even more importantly, I want the people of Idaho to be safe from this virus. Please don’t let your guard down. Please heed the science, stay vigilant, and follow those guidelines. 

The stress and trauma of COVID-19

According to a JAMA Network study, the number of adults experiencing depression has tripled in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic. There is no question: COVID-19 is a traumatic event for healthcare, public health, and frontline workers, parents and children, our economy, our communities, and our health and safety. And, sadly, there have been more than 200,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in the United States.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Counting cases associated with Idaho schools

Q: The state has started posting a weekly summary of the number COVID-19 cases that are reported in each school. How are those numbers compiled?

A: Gathering case counts associated with schools is not an easy process. Information is gathered by state public health epidemiologists from local public health reports, media stories, and school reporting, and are limited to available information.

Disease tracking is based on a person’s usual place of legal residence. Local public health districts don’t know what school a child attends until they do the case investigation, and the parent agrees to provide that information. Public health officials will know some basic demographic information such as age and sex of the child, but they won’t know the school a child attends until a case investigation is conducted and the information is provided. If a parent isn’t able to be contacted or doesn’t provide the name of the school their child attends, then public health won’t know that information.

The weekly summary is not complete, but it is the best information we can provide at the state level at a certain point in time to give parents and others an idea for how COVID-19 is affecting their schools. We continue to work to improve this system and provide as much information as possible so that parents, school officials, teachers, and others can use it to make informed decisions as the pandemic continues.

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Annual art and expression contest celebrates kinship care in Idaho: A message from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

In the midst of what we are collectively experiencing because of the global pandemic, there are those who continue to open their hearts and homes to Idaho children when their parents are unable to do so. These kinship families have my sincerest appreciation. We are very grateful for them.

My Family. My Story. is an annual event that the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) has sponsored for 10 years. It is an art and expression contest that is open to children and youth who have ever been in kinship care in Idaho. Kinship care is when children are cared for by relatives or very close friends of the family when their parents are unable to care for them.

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COVID Q&A: Schools

As children go back to school, parents are confused about some of the guidelines, especially about when they should keep a child home from school. When should a child be kept home?

The school setting has a large influence on your child’s health and well-being. The school environment provides educational instruction, supports social and emotional skills, safety, speech, mental health, nutrition, and opportunities for physical activity. If your child is participating in in-person classes, they can attend unless they are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses or have been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.

It is important to help your child promote behaviors that reduce the spread of infections including social distancing, washing hands, and wearing cloth face coverings.

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