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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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.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Why I chose to get vaccinated; and an update on our five-year strategic plan

As the COVID-19 vaccine was being developed last year, I felt a huge need to know if the vaccines were scientifically sound, safe, and effective. Just like you, I needed to know this before I could choose to be vaccinated and encourage my family to do the same. 

Also, because of my job as the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, I knew that if I made a recommendation, it would be to you and everyone else in Idaho. I would be asking all of you to choose to get vaccinated. I take that responsibility seriously. It is very, very important to me that the COVID-19 vaccines had data and studies with evidence to support that they are safe and effective. That is the only way that I could choose to get vaccinated myself or recommend the vaccine to you.

I had the benefit of getting real-time information from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the process to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. What I learned was:

  • There were no short cuts in developing the vaccine.
  • The mRNA technology being used has been researched and tested for many years (see my Aug. 27 blog for more information on the mRNA vaccines)
  • The clinical trials included many more volunteers than is usual for a vaccine trial.
  • The independent oversight committees that reviewed the clinical trials data, and data gathered after the trials, included independent healthcare professionals and scientists who were not going to “rubber stamp” a vaccine.
  • There is a body of evidence of vaccine safety over time.

The same robust scientific process used to approve any drug or vaccine was followed for the COVID-19 vaccine. The scientific and data-driven processes are what make drugs and treatments safe in the United States. Because I watched this process closely. I have complete trust and confidence in the vaccine. You can find more information here about the COVID-19 vaccines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/safety-of-vaccines.html

The COVID-19 vaccine data shows there is clear evidence that the vaccines are effective. In fact, these are some of the most effective vaccines ever. The vaccines are very effective against getting COVID-19 (and the Delta variant) and in protecting against hospitalization and death. 

In addition, there are now more than 200 million Americans and more than 828,200 Idahoans who have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. The CDC, as well as scientists and healthcare professionals in Idaho, have been diligent about monitoring for adverse effects. While there are some common side effects (such as soreness, headache, or being tired), they are mild and pass quickly. 

More importantly, there are have been very few serious side effects. If there were wide-spread serious adverse side effects from the vaccine, I promise you I would share that information with all Idahoans so we all can make informed decisions. 

It is a personal choice to get the COVID-19 vaccine. For me, the risk of getting COVID-19 (and possibly sharing the virus with my loved ones) was a risk I was not willing to take.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a local intensive care unit (ICU) over the weekend. It was full, and almost everyone there was a COVID-19 patient. The vast majority of the COVID-19 patients in the ICU were unvaccinated. One of those patients died just before I arrived. Several more were anticipated to pass away in the next day or two. I don’t have the words to describe the suffering and sadness of the patients, their families, and the medical staff working desperately to save their lives. I still think about the people I saw, and how they were suffering. When you see the pain and heartbreak firsthand, the risk of getting COVID-19 just seems too high.

Every day I hear stories from co-workers and friends who had a friend or family member suffering, and even dying, from this relentless virus. It weighs on me, and it makes me even more motivated to encourage you to consider choosing to get vaccinated. I don’t want you or any of your loved ones to suffer the way I saw the people in the ICU suffering on my visit.  

If you haven’t been vaccinated, please consider making the choice to do so. If you have concerns, please consider discussing them with your doctor.

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A message from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The Pfizer vaccine is fully licensed, but how does this mRNA vaccine actually work?

On Monday, Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved as fully licensed Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and older. Those 12 to 15 years of age can continue to get the vaccine under the current emergency use authorization.

There continues to be misinformation circulating on social media and other communication channels about how the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine actually works. I’d like to set the record straight:

  • Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccine? No.
  • Can you become infertile from the vaccine? No.
  • And, finally, does it alter your DNA? No.

I would like to share with you how an mRNA vaccine works, and why it does not impact your DNA.

First, I’d like to talk about how your immune system works. Your immune system attacks things that look foreign to it. When a germ enters your body, and the immune cells don’t recognize it, your body goes on the attack.

However, building up a system to defeat a germ such as the COVID-19 virus takes time. Your immune system needs to figure out what part of the virus to attack. When your immune system figures it out, it increases the production of what it needs to attack the virus. That takes time, but the virus hasn’t slowed down. As your system is figuring out how to fight off the virus, the virus is infecting your cells and expanding quickly in your body.

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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.”

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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.

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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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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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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. 

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An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Latest research helps us better understand vaccine confidence among Idahoans

At certain times during the COVID-19 pandemic, Idaho conducted research to help us understand current awareness and understanding of COVID-19, safety precautions, and the COVID-19 vaccine. Recently, the state conducted a survey with 300 Idahoans who are currently unvaccinated. We wanted to understand if they will choose, at some point, to get vaccinated and what would be the reason. And, if they are choosing to not get vaccinated, what has led them to that personal decision?

Some highlights of the survey results include:

  • Many people are in the “wait and see how things go” mindset. This means people will decide, in their own time, when they will get the vaccine. They are not against getting vaccinated, but they may be looking for a trigger (travel, school starting, etc.) or time and convenient access to the vaccine because of their busy lifestyles.
  • Many people also indicated they wanted to wait for a year or so to see how things were going.
  • Most unvaccinated people are not concerned about getting COVID-19. They do express some concern about and the possible side effects of the available vaccines. (Note: Some more common side effects are swelling, redness, and pain at the injection site; fever; headache; tiredness; muscle pain; chills; and nausea. Serious side effects are extremely rare.)
  • For those who are likely to get the vaccine, convenience is a major concern. Idahoans also indicated a preference for getting the vaccine at a pharmacy.
  • Those likely to be vaccinated in the future are concerned about time off work for the appointment OR if they experience side effects. (Note: Gov. Brad Little took this concern to heart and has set the example for other leaders in Idaho. He gave state employees four hours of paid leave if they have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine or if they will be doing so in the future).
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