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:
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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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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.

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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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Enjoy Your Labor Day Weekend Safely and Responsibly: A Reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

As we approach this Labor Day weekend, I want to remind all Idahoans to minimize the risk of COVID-19 “transmissible moments” by wearing masks or cloth face coverings, washing your hands often, and keeping a physical distance of six feet when outside your home.

I know that holiday weekends are often a time for family or community gatherings, but I am encouraging you to celebrate safely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), our risk for COVID-19 increases at events and in-person gatherings as follows:

  • Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings.
  • More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least six feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
  • Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least six feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.
  • Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least six feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.
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COVID Q&A: Percent positivity, how COVID-19 deaths are counted, carbon filters in masks, tests vs. cases

Q: Is it possible we’ve had a steady amount of cases in the state for many months, but we are testing more which makes it seem like our cases are rising, but in reality the infection rate hasn’t changed?

A: Comparing the number of tests with the number of cases doesn’t tell us the whole story. It makes sense that as more tests are done, more infections might be identified. For this reason, we also look at the percentage of the tests that are positive to determine if the increase in cases is a result of increased testing OR the increase in cases is because more virus is circulating. This measure, called “percent positivity,” is one way to determine how widespread infection is in the area where testing is being done.

A high percent positivity indicates high coronavirus infection rates. Even as our testing increased during June, the percent positivity increased at a higher rate because the virus was circulating in a higher percent of the population than it had been before June. When percent positivity remains unchanged, we know the new cases identified are likely a result of additional testing. Unfortunately, that was not the situation for Idaho in June and July as percent positivity rose from 2.7percent to a high of 14.85 percent. However, our percent positivity has been decreasing during August, which is a sign less virus may be circulating. Our current percent positivity is 8.3 percent.

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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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COVID-19 Q&A: Out-of-state residents, symptoms of COVID-19, flu, and UVC lamps

Why don’t the state or local health districts count out-of-state residents who test positive for COVID-19 in Idaho?

Public health departments at the state and local levels often don’t receive test results for out-of-state residents. The lab that performs the test sends the result to the address given by the person tested. If test results are received in Idaho and it is determined that person isn’t a resident of Idaho, the results are sent to that person’s state of residence for investigation and follow-up. This is common and consistent public health practice throughout the United States – public health authority to have personal health information applies to residents in their states.

However, DHW staff are working with universities to see if and how we can get summary information on their student populations, many of whom may list an out of state legal residence when they are tested.

Do asymptomatic carriers of the virus that causes COVID-19 have a fever or increased temperature?

No – since they are asymptomatic, that would mean they are not experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, which would include a fever. However, some people who are asymptomatic initially may develop symptoms the following day, or a few days later.

The symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from none at all to very severe. This is why following the recommended guidelines – and especially wearing a face covering in public, maintaining 6-feet of physical distance, and staying home if you feel sick — is so important. It’s possible to spread the disease without knowing it.

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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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COVID Q&A: hydroxychloroquine, deaths, and dangerous hand sanitizers

Is hydroxychloroquine considered an effective treatment for COVID-19?

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19, according to the FDA, citing reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with COVID-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine.

Anyone considering using hydroxychloroquine should consult with a medical professional before beginning to use it. The U.S. National Institutes of Health recommends against using hydroxychloroquine except for people in clinical trials due to lack of evidence of clinical benefit and increased risk for abnormal heart rhythms and other side effects with the use of this medicine.

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