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.

Continue reading “COVID-19 Q&A: Testing and Idaho schools”

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.

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

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.

Continue reading “COVID-19 Q&A: Counting cases associated with Idaho schools”

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.

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

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.

Continue reading “COVID Q&A: Schools”

Dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans: A reminder of our mission from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

Life in 2020 seems to throw one curveball after another at us. However, our strength and resilience as Idahoans allows us to weather adversity and come out stronger on the other side. We are Idahoans. What I know about Idahoans is that we help our neighbors. We are deeply committed to our families, our communities, and our state.

At DHW, we are committed to respecting the independence of our fellow Idahoans as we help build healthy, safe communities. Our aim is to help us all achieve our best lives.

To show our level of commitment to this goal, we have added a word to our mission statement: independence. We are dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. If you take a few moments to look at the new DHW Strategic Plan, you will see signs of our commitment to promoting independence on every page. Our work as we hold fast to our mission is broken down into four goals:

  • GOAL 1:  Ensure affordable, available healthcare that works
  • GOAL 2:  Protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults
  • GOAL 3:  Help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible
  • GOAL 4:  Strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the Department of Health and Welfare
Continue reading “Dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans: A reminder of our mission from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen”

COVID Q&A: Vaccine safety, different rates of testing positivity, cases in schools, and fall predictions

How do we know that the vaccine will be safe since it’s being fast-tracked through the clinical trials?

Idaho Public Health officials are watching this issue very closely and are committed to providing safe and effective vaccines for Idahoans. In particular, we are reassured that:

  1. These are companies like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck that are in the health field for the long haul—they don’t want to risk their reputation with the American public by issuing a poor or unsafe vaccine.
  2. The FDA has pledged to give COVID-19 vaccines a full review and not be pressured to act more quickly than might be safe.
  3. The National Academy of Medicine recently announced a committee that will create an overarching framework to help policymakers plan for equitable allocation of vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, made up of independent researchers, doctors, scientists, and public health workers, will review the data and make recommendations for the use of the vaccine.
  4. Lastly, manufacturers have committed to full safety and efficacy reviews. Read the pledge: https://www.pfizer.com/health/coronavirus/pledge
Continue reading “COVID Q&A: Vaccine safety, different rates of testing positivity, cases in schools, and fall predictions”

Flu shots, COVID-19, and wildfires: A safety reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

As summer slowly turns to fall, we are still in the midst of a global pandemic that has impacted almost 7 million Americans. And, in October, our flu season will begin. Because both COVID-19 and the flu will be circulating in Idaho, the concern is that could overburden our healthcare system.  As if that’s not enough, as you have heard on the news every day, wildfires in Idaho and surrounding states are destroying homes and livelihoods, ravaging our beautiful forest lands, and – heartbreakingly – taking lives.

No question about it; 2020 has tested our limits of hope, courage, and – most of all – patience. We all hope for better days in 2021, but if 2021 is to serve as the light at the end of this tunnel, there are a few things we can do to help usher in a healthy new year.

  1. Get your flu shot. Flu shots are available now at pharmacies, grocery stores, and primary care clinics. Because of the pandemic, this is more important than ever. If you have questions about the flu shot, please reach out to your doctor.
  2. For both the flu and COVID-19, follow recommended precautions (I can’t say this enough): Wash your hands often, keep six feet between yourself and others in public places, wear masks/face coverings in public, and cover coughs and sneezes.
  3. Although we hope the fires are soon under control, the smoke impacts the air quality here in Idaho. You can follow air quality reports through the Idaho Smoke Information Blog. Please protect yourself and your family by following recommendations from DEQ.

Idaho to remain in Stage 4

Gov. Brad Little announced this afternoon that Idaho will remain in Stage 4 of the Idaho Rebounds plan for another two weeks. He said the metrics are very encouraging, but the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is still too high statewide. This is no time to let our guards down, he stressed. The reason those metrics are mostly headed in the right direction is because of all of you who have decided to follow the recommended guidelines. Please continue to wear a mask, keep 6 feet between you and others, stay home if you feel sick, and wash your hands often.

Continue reading “Flu shots, COVID-19, and wildfires: A safety reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen”

COVID Q&A: Vaccine, flu vs. COVID-19, and counting rapid antigen tests

How is Idaho preparing for a COVID-19 vaccine, and will the state be ready when a vaccine is available?

The Department of Health and Welfare has a pandemic plan for vaccine deployment and distribution that will be updated when we know which vaccines will be available and what the priority groups for vaccination will be.

Idaho, like all other states, is still waiting on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the White House Task Force before the plan can be adjusted to fit this pandemic. The plan includes Idaho’s Immunization Information System having the appropriate functionality to both recall patients for their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine and to track any potential adverse events from the vaccine.

Continue reading “COVID Q&A: Vaccine, flu vs. COVID-19, and counting rapid antigen tests”

From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A Reminder to Get Your Flu Shot and Recognizing Suicide Prevention and Recovery Month

Each year, the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) reminds Idahoans to get their flu shots in preparation for the flu season. This year, the stakes are even higher. Even if you normally get your flu shot in October, the time to start thinking about it (and getting it) is now. Flu shots are available at your local pharmacies, supermarkets, and primary care clinics (an appointment is usually not necessary). Please call your primary care physician if you have questions.

Why is the flu shot so important in 2020?

Both the flu and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses affecting your lungs and breathing and can be spread to others. Adding the flu to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could overburden our healthcare system and strain our testing capacity.

Getting your flu shot is a safe, inexpensive way to stay healthy and protect those most vulnerable from the flu, our elderly residents and those with underlying health conditions.

Continue reading “From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A Reminder to Get Your Flu Shot and Recognizing Suicide Prevention and Recovery Month”