A call to action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: School is about to start, and we can help keep our kids in the classroom by getting the COVID-19 vaccine

With today’s busy lifestyles, many Idahoans just haven’t found the time to get the COVID-19 vaccine. We know some people just can’t or won’t get the vaccine, but there are others that are looking for a convenient time or place to get vaccinated.

Now is the time.

School is about to start. Our hospitals are starting to feel the strain of more and more COVID patients. Let’s support our teachers, our kids, and our healthcare workers by getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Yesterday, Gov. Brad Little held a press conference at Nampa High School to encourage Idahoans to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Like the Governor, I want Idaho children to attend school in the classroom. I emphatically agree with Gov. Little when he said, “Idaho students are headed back to their classrooms starting next week. As I’ve stated from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our students need to be able to learn in their classrooms with their teachers and peers. Our main defense in ensuring the new school year is entirely in-person – free from outbreaks and quarantines – is the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Continue reading “A call to action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: School is about to start, and we can help keep our kids in the classroom by getting the COVID-19 vaccine”

So-called “wellness” vapes pose a health risk

Although some brands call themselves a “mist,” “personal diffuser,” or “aromatherapy stick,” make no mistake, these products are actually a type of vaping device.

So-called “wellness” vapes marketed by the tobacco industry to youth and young adults claim to include ingredients such as vitamins, essential oils, and melatonin to promote sleep and relaxation. The truth is these vaping devices are not federally regulated, so it is unclear what ingredients they really contain.

Inhaling the chemicals contained in any type of vaping device, whether they contain nicotine or are nicotine-free, can damage lung tissue. When vaping, the user can inhale harmful metal particles and chemicals. Vaping also makes it harder to breathe and fight off respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A COVID-19 task force now in place to support local schools; foster parents open their hearts to Idaho children

Back-to-School Task Force

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) is co-facilitating a Back-to-School Task Force to promote COVID-19 prevention strategies and provide recommendations based on guidance for K-12 schools for safe learning environments. DHW’s goal is to have Idaho’s children attend school safely and in-person throughout Idaho. Sonja Schriever, from the Division of Public Health, and Marilyn Whitney, from the State Department of Education are co-chairs for this taskforce.

Using Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools, the group will concentrate on developing recommendations and support strategies in the following areas:

  • Vaccination support for individuals 12 years old and above
  • COVID-19 prevention: masks, physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick, and more
  • Screening testing
  • Contact tracing and outbreak mitigation
  • Other areas as needed

In addition to DHW staff, task force members include representatives from the State Department of Education, Governor’s Office, Idaho School Boards Association, public health districts, High School Activities Association, School Nurses Organization of Idaho, Idaho Association of School Administrators, Office of School Safety and Security, Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, charter schools, local school boards, a pediatrician, and Parents and Teachers Associations.

I will give updates on the work of the task force in future blog posts.

Continue reading “From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A COVID-19 task force now in place to support local schools; foster parents open their hearts to Idaho children”

COVID-19: An explanation of different data on Idaho and CDC dashboards for updated mask guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance last week for people to wear masks indoors in public areas, regardless of vaccination status, where community spread is substantial or high. The CDC’s map uses different measures to determine the rate of transmission than measures the Idaho’s COVID-19 Dashboard depicts. Idaho’s dashboard is maintained by the Division of Public Health in the Department of Health and Welfare.

We strongly encourage everyone to follow the CDC guidance and wear a mask indoors in public areas where the rate of transmission is substantial or high. The only way we’ll beat the virus that causes COVID-19 is by limiting its ability to spread and mutate yet again into another variant of public health concern. We’re in a race against the virus, and vaccination is still the best protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and even death from COVID-19. But the Delta variant is a worthy foe and vaccination rates aren’t high enough to keep it in check. So wearing a mask is important again.

But we also understand how confusing it is that the data on the CDC’s site and on Idaho’s dashboard don’t match, and we’d like to explain why that is.

The CDC is using case rates or molecular testing percent positivity to calculate the community rate of COVID-19 transmission. Here are explanations for why the data are different on both sites.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Some common questions and answers about COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death. And now that the Delta variant is causing a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, those of you who are not vaccinated yet may have more questions about the vaccines.

Here are some common questions about the vaccines that may help in your decision-making. If you have more questions, I urge you to discuss them with a healthcare provider. The information below has been compiled from trusted sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and DHW subject matter experts, and they reflect some of the things I’m hearing on social media or in my community.

I hope you’ll consider the information below because it’s more important than ever to choose to get the vaccine. It is your best protection against this wily virus.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines experimental?

While the vaccines are still under investigation, an incredible amount of data has been submitted to FDA which is expected to result in full licensure in the coming months. In the meanwhile, the FDA has given the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines emergency use authorizations (EUA), which makes needed medications and vaccinations available during public health emergencies.

An EUA does not mean vaccine safety has been compromised. The same development processes are followed, including research, clinical studies, and the analysis of side effects and adverse reactions. Instead, it speeds up manufacturing and administrative processes so it is available more quickly and can potentially save lives.

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Smoky air is likely to be with us through summer and into fall. Here’s what you need to know.

Wildfire smoke can cause irritating symptoms for healthy people and more serious health issues for people with respiratory issues and heart and lung disease. It’s important to know how to protect yourself and your family from smoky air whenever possible.

Who is most at risk for harmful effects of smoke?

Infants and young children suffer more from smoke because they breathe more air than adults do for their body size. Older adults and people with lung and heart conditions also are especially sensitive to smoke in the air. Even low levels of smoke can cause breathing problems for sensitive groups that have asthma, COPD, and other chronic lung diseases. And for people with chronic heart conditions, smoky air can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Smoke can also increase risk of premature birth in pregnant women.

When should we become concerned about the symptoms of smoke exposure? 

Common effects of smoke exposure include irritated eyes, nose, and throat. However, if you have shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, headaches, fatigue, or a combination of those symptoms and they become severe, you should call your doctor immediately.

Continue reading “Smoky air is likely to be with us through summer and into fall. Here’s what you need to know.”

From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: I urge you to choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine as the number of COVID-19 cases are on the rise

Every single COVID-19 indicator in Idaho is heading in the wrong direction.

  • The number of cases has started to rise.
  • The statewide seven-day moving average of cases per 100,000 has risen from a low of 3.4 on July 5 to 10.1 on July 22.
  • COVID-19 testing positivity is increasing from a low of 2.8 percent four weeks ago to 5.7 percent this week.
  • The number of long-term care facilities with active COVID cases has risen from a low of 14 a few weeks ago to 24 on July 23.

I am concerned, as many of you are, about what this means as we approach flu season, head back to school, and return to indoor activities.

The best way to protect yourself, your family and friends from COVID-19 is to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As of today, 49.1 percent of those 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. We all need those numbers to go up, and we are counting on the people of Idaho to get vaccinated.

We need more people to choose to get vaccinated. The reality of our current COVID-19 situation is that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting the unvaccinated. And, because children under 12 cannot get vaccinated at this time, the best way to protect them and others who can’t get vaccinated is to make sure those around them are vaccinated.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Emergency use authorization

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have all received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are considered safe and effective at preventing serious illness and even death from COVID-19.

The following is information found on the FDA’s website. It has been edited for length and clarity. Visit the FDA link to read the full Q&A and learn more about each vaccine.

What is an EUA?

An emergency use authorization is a process that helps make needed medications and vaccinations available during emergencies. An EUA does not affect vaccine safety, because it does not impact development, such as research, clinical studies, and the analysis of side effects and adverse reactions. Instead, it speeds up manufacturing and administrative processes.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines rigorously tested?

Yes. All vaccines follow the same testing processes, whether they are approved for emergency use or through a typical license. Clinical trials evaluated investigational COVID-19 vaccines in tens of thousands of study participants to generate the scientific data and other information needed to determine safety and effectiveness. These clinical trials are conducted according to the rigorous standards set forth by the FDA.

Currently, millions of Americans have safely chosen to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Mosquito and tick bites can lead to serious illness

Mosquitoes and ticks can carry some pretty serious bugs, like bacteria and viruses. It’s important to do everything you can to avoid getting bitten.

Tick- and mosquito-borne diseases can vary by region in the United States. Besides West Nile virus, are there other insect-borne diseases we should be informed about in Idaho?

Before you head into the outdoors, or even into your backyard, you should learn more about the diseases associated with local ticks and mosquitoes. In Idaho, public health officials are most concerned about West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, and tularemia.

What about Lyme disease?

We often hear about Lyme disease in the national media, but cases in Idaho are rare and typically only occur in people who have traveled to other areas of the country, such as the eastern and midwestern states, where infected ticks have been found. The tick that carries Lyme disease is not known to live in Idaho. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about the risks of insect bites in a different state or country.

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A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: 98.7 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations are Idahoans with no record of being fully vaccinated

The facts are clear. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. Currently, the vast majority of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths among Idahoans occurred among those who were not fully vaccinated when they became ill or tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

  • From Jan. 1 through July 3, Idaho has had 52,699 cases of COVID-19. 497 (0.9 percent) of those had a record of being fully vaccinated, 52,202 (99.1 percent) had no record of being fully vaccinated.  
  • In that same time period, 2,479 Idahoans were hospitalized for COVID-19. 32 (1.3 percent) had a record of being fully vaccinated. 2,447 (98.7 percent) had no record of being fully vaccinated.
  • Also in that same time period, 433 Idahoans died from COVID-19. Five (1.2 percent) had a record of being fully vaccinated. 428 (98.8) percent) had no record of being fully vaccinated.

Getting the vaccine is a choice, but it is a choice that protects your families and fellow residents … and you. I hope you stay healthy. I want your parents and children to stay healthy. If you are looking for a place to get a vaccine, you can find a mobile clinic near you or a walk-in location or pharmacy near you.

As of today, 51.3 percent of adults aged 18 and older in Idaho have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 76.9 percent of those age 65 and older have received one dose of the vaccine. 

Continue reading “A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: 98.7 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations are Idahoans with no record of being fully vaccinated”