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.

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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.

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DHW is here to support the most vulnerable Idaho residents: A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

At the Department of Health and Welfare, our mission is to strengthen the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. As you might guess, the positive impact we have on individuals and their families is ongoing and significant. We help people in crisis: struggling families needing a safe place to raise their children; people in the midst of a physical or mental health crisis; and families who need temporary public assistance to feed themselves and their children. These are just a few examples of how we serve those in need.

Now, add a global, devastating pandemic to the mix. The impact of COVID-19 on the United States is immeasurable. Here, in our home state, Idahoans have lost their jobs, closed the doors to their small businesses, or contracted COVID-19.

Now, what we do and how we do it, is more important than ever to the people of Idaho. We do not take this responsibility lightly. We spend many hours each day developing plans and removing barriers to better serve Idahoans. It’s not easy, but we want to always be there for Idahoans during dark days and difficult times. We want to create paths to healthier futures and more self-reliant Idahoans. Our goal is always to help Idahoans be as independent as possible and live their best lives.

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For those raising children when the parents are unable to do so: A thank you from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

I am asking all Idahoans to join me in celebrating and honoring Idaho’s kinship families. Kinship care is when significant adults (e.g. grandparents, Godparents, aunts and uncles, etc.) in the lives of children take on the responsibility of parenting when the child’s parents are unable to take care of them. I am guessing that some of you are parenting and nurturing your grandchildren, or maybe your nephew or niece, and to you, I send my sincerest appreciation.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 1 in 11 children live with a relative or significant adult at some point before turning 18. In 2018 in Idaho, there were 10,574 grandparents responsible for their grandchildren under 18 years old. This does not count for the thousands of children living with relatives informally. In the State Fiscal Year 2020 (July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020), 2,934 children in Idaho were in foster care. Of those, approximately one-third were placed with either relatives or with a person who had a significant relationship with the child.

The department is actively working to create resources and support for caregivers. We know that the majority of caregivers are not receiving the support or assistance they are eligible for today. In an effort to provide further support to kinship caregivers and families, Idaho applied for and received a federal kinship navigation grant. Our goal for the grant funding is to identify kinship families and provide individualized supports to prevent children from entering formal foster care by supporting placements that promote family stability, safety, and well-being. We have applied for a second federal grant, which will serve as a continuation of our current grant activities. 

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From DHW Director Jeppesen: We remain focused on our mission to serve Idahoans. You can track our progress in our Strategic Plan and Performance Reports.

Although COVID-19 has changed the way we work for the past five months, it hasn’t changed the need to serve Idaho’s most vulnerable residents. We want all Idahoans to be able to live their best lives.

The impact we have on those we serve is often immeasurable. We work with struggling families to make sure they have a safe place to raise their children. We assist people in crisis – whether it is a physical or behavioral health crisis. We also help people who need public assistance, while always keeping the path to self-reliance in our sight.

We are focused on our mission: Dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans, and we keep track of our progress through our Strategic Plan. Our 2021-2025 Strategic Plan outlines our strategies to:

  • Address state and community issues (e.g. affordable, available healthcare)
  • Focus on public health issues and responses (e.g. COVID-19)
  • Protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults (e.g. reunification of families and behavioral health services)
  • Help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible (e.g. reduce Idaho’s suicide rates)
  • Strengthen the public’s trust in confidence in DHW (e.g. prevent accumulation of ineffective, outdated regulations)

We invite you to review our Strategic Plan and Performance Reports. As we continue with our plan, we will be able to show a positive influence on Idaho’s health and human services system.

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There’s a path forward for families eligible for P-EBT program: An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

The state of Idaho is participating in the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) Program, but it took some work to get to a path forward.

The P-EBT provides eligible families with a one-time payment for each child who previously received free or reduced-price meals at school. The Department of Health and Welfare does not administer the school lunch program. In order for Idaho to implement the P-EBT program, DHW and the Department of Education had to work out data share agreements to make sure data could be shared between the departments. Conversations between the two agencies started in earnest in early June. Because each individual school district owns the data for families eligible for the school lunch program, we worked together to ensure we were able to get all of the information in a format we could use from local public school districts to implement the program.

Now that the path forward has been determined, DHW and the Department of Education have submitted their plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval, and we have full confidence that our plan will be approved. When it is approved, we will get P-EBT payments to eligible families as soon as possible.

Idaho remains in Stage 4 of the Idaho Rebounds Plan for two more weeks

During Gov. Brad Little’s press conference on Thursday, he announced that Idaho would remain in Stage 4 for the next two weeks. Although we are staying in Stage 4, there is good news for Idahoans because:

  • Idaho has sufficient healthcare workers, PPE, ventilators, and ICU beds, and we are meeting the demands for testing our healthcare workers statewide. 
  • The state has downward trends in overall case counts as well as our percent-positivity rate.
  • Emergency room visits from those with COVID-like symptoms are declining.

Gov. Little added overall hospital admissions statewide to the list of metrics used to examine Idaho’s situation every two weeks and said those numbers need to be on a downward trend. He also noted that in some of the state’s hot spots, we are starting to see the benefits of the measures that local public health officials and mayors have put in place such as mask/cloth face covering orders or resolutions.

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Supporting our teachers, staff, and students as schools reopen: A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

Back-to-School Framework

On July 9, the state of Idaho released our Back-to-School Framework as schools began to make plans to reopen for the 2020-21 school year. The Framework outlines the expectations, support for local governance and decision-making, as well as guidance and best practices on the key operational components for a safe reopening. As Gov. Brad Little stated, local leadership is paramount.

Additionally, on July 24, Gov. Little announced that the Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee had approved an additional $40 million to increase testing capacity and improve test turn-around times in Idaho, with $21 million of the testing money specifically for K-12 teachers and staff. An additional $10 million was approved to equip schools with supplies needed to open safely.

Idaho has strategically leveraged federal funds to offset planned reductions. Between direct federal support for schools and the Governor’s actions through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a total of $122.2 million has been committed to K-12 public education for the upcoming school year.

Ultimately, we want to keep our teachers, staff, and students as safe as possible from the spread of COVID-19. Depending on what is happening locally, each district will make the decision that is best for them. For example, in Ada County, face masks or cloth face coverings will be required at all schools and universities. Central District Health is doing the safe and responsible thing as Ada County has seen significant spread of COVID-19.

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Wear a mask for your neighbors and your community: A call for action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

STAY THE COURSE TO SLOW THE SPREAD

The continued increase of COVID-19 cases in Ada County, and other areas of the state, is troubling. On social media, we are being asked “What can we do to slow the spread?”  In the absence of a vaccine or therapeutic interventions, the answer is simple, and it bears repeating:

  • Keep at least six feet between you and others in public
  • Wear face coverings in public places 
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly

WEARING A MASK IS AN ACT OF LOVE AND RESPECT FOR OTHERS

During the last few months, the subject of wearing a mask has been hotly debated in public forums (and especially on social media) throughout the United States. In Idaho, some cities and counties are requiring the wearing of masks in public places when it is difficult to maintain six feet of physical distancing. Many businesses nationwide are requiring masks upon entry. We support those efforts.

At DHW, we highly recommend wearing masks or cloth face coverings. It helps slow the spread of COVID19 and shows your concern for your friends, neighbors, and community. There is mounting evidence that masks do prevent the spread of the virus, if we all wear masks or cloth face coverings properly.

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Have a safe Fourth of July weekend: A message from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

This upcoming holiday weekend is a test for all of us. Can we enjoy our beautiful state, spend time with family, take a vacation, and still keep ourselves and communities safe from the spread of COVID-19?

The answer is: We can. I hope you will remember to do your part this weekend to keep Idaho open and protect our vulnerable loved ones. It’s a personal choice, but I hope you take that choice seriously. Because COVID-19 is no joke.

We need to slow the spread

We know that the majority of new cases are in Ada County and, in particular, there is a surge in new cases among young adults. Central Health District made the tough but appropriate and critical decision to move Ada County back to Stage 3 through a new Order.

Because of the continued increase in cases among young adults in many counties across the state, it is more important than ever to encourage young adults to take recommended precautions to protect those who are vulnerable in our state. We need to protect our parents and grandparents. We need to protect those with immunosuppressed systems. We need to show our families, friends, and communities that we understand we are all in this together, and we will do whatever we can to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Young adults may show very few symptoms and may even be asymptomatic, but they can spread the virus to others who may be more vulnerable. Let’s work together to keep our families safe. It really does take all of us.

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DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Stage 4 pause means it’s more important than ever to follow the guidelines

Gov. Brad Little announced Thursday that Idaho did not meet the metrics needed to move out of the final stage of the Idaho Rebounds plan. Idaho will stay in the final stage of the Idaho Rebounds plan for at least another two weeks.

Idaho did not meet the epidemiologic and healthcare criteria to advance past Stage 4:

  • The number of reported cases from June 10-25 trended upward instead of downward.
  • The percent of positive tests from June 8-21 trended upward instead of downward.
  • The average percent positive for the prior 14-day period was greater than 5-percent at 5.12-percent.
  • The number of healthcare workers reported with COVID-19 from June 10-23 trended upward, and the average number of healthcare workers reported having COVID-19 per day was greater than the standard of 2.

He also announced that the state’s COVID-19 response will transition to a more regional approach as the number of cases in some counties has increased significantly, but several others have had no reports of COVID-19 cases. The seven local public health districts across the state are continually evaluating the criteria at the local level and will announce any changes in moving forward.

What this all means is that it remains critical for everyone – especially those who are 18-29 years old — to follow the recommended guidelines and stay home if you’re sick, wear a face covering and keep six feet apart in public, and wash your hands frequently. It’s also a good idea to avoid large gatherings of people to help reduce your personal risk of getting COVID-19.

The ultimate goal is to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep us within the capacity of our healthcare system so people who do need hospital-level care can get it when they need it.

Idaho’s success depends on us all.

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