A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Thank a healthcare worker today

Last Tuesday at our weekly press briefing, we were fortunate to have Dr. Jim Souza, chief physician executive at St. Luke’s Health System, as our guest. One of the reporters asked him what we can do as citizens of Idaho to help our hospitals and our communities. His answer resonated with me, and I hope you feel the same.

He reminded us that the healthcare workers are under extreme stress, and we should thank them with our actions. We should all get vaccinated. We should all wear a mask. And, we should all “be brave … be the one setting the example” for others. I would encourage all of us to think about the crushing weight that this pandemic has on our healthcare workers. They are watching their patients struggle to breathe, and even die, often more than once a day. If it is hard to hear this, imagine how hard it is to watch.

We owe them our gratitude, and we have a responsibility to them and our communities to do what we can to remain safe and keep others safe from COVID-19.

If you weren’t able to listen to the media briefing:

The numbers are still going in the wrong direction. As of Sept. 18, the number of COVID-19 patients in the ICUs and using ventilators across the state is the highest it has ever been. There are nearly twice as many patients needing ventilators (112) when compared to the previous peak of the pandemic.

Continue reading “A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Thank a healthcare worker today”

COVID-19 Q&A: Crisis Standards of Care

Idaho activated Crisis Standards of Care for the entire state on Thursday, Sept. 16.

What are crisis standards of care?

Crisis standards of care are guidelines that help healthcare providers and healthcare systems decide how to deliver the best care possible under the extraordinary circumstances of a disaster or a public health emergency.

The goal of crisis standards of care is to save as many lives as possible. They guide decisions made by hospitals about how to allocate scarce resources, such as hospital beds, medications, or ventilators.

How would crisis standards of care affect me and my care?

When crisis standards of care are in effect, people who need medical care may experience care that is different from what they expect.

For example, patients admitted to a hospital may find there are no hospital beds or that beds have been set up in other rooms or hallways. In some extreme circumstances, ventilator or intensive care unit beds may need to be used for those who are most likely to survive, while patients who are not likely to survive may not be able to receive one.

The goal in all cases is to provide the best medical care possible with the resources that are available and to save the greatest number of lives.

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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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COVID-19 Q&A: The Delta variant is more contagious

What is the Delta variant and what should I know about it?

The COVID-19 virus Delta variant has mutations, or changes, from the original virus strain. The Delta variant is more contagious and spreads more than twice as easily from one person to another, compared with earlier strains. Areas where many people are not vaccinated have more cases of COVID-19, and we are in a race against time to vaccinate more people before new variants form.

Higher numbers of vaccinated people lower the chance for the virus to spread and help prevent new variants. Data show that the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, and work well against the Delta variant. Vaccination is the best way to protect you, your family, and your community.

Should vaccinated people worry they are spreading the virus?

Although the COVID-19 vaccines offer protection, they are not perfect. There will be vaccine breakthrough infections. However, breakthrough infections represent a very small number of cases around the country, and less than 1 percent of cases in Idaho. In addition, infections among vaccinated people are much less likely to result in serious illness, hospitalization, or death.

If you get vaccinated, your risk of infection is around 3.5-fold lower than if you had not gotten vaccinated, your risk of getting ill from COVID is over 8-fold lower, and your risk of hospitalization or death is around 25-fold lower.

There is evidence that some vaccinated people can spread the virus if they get infected with the Delta variant; that is why it is important that in areas of substantial and high transmission, vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoors to prevent spread and protect themselves and others.

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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.

Continue reading From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The activation of Crisis Standards of Care is a call-to-action for all Idahoans

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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Help save a life on International Overdose Awareness Day: Naloxone is available for free for Idaho organizations

To combat the ever-growing opioid epidemic in Idaho, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has made it easy for organizations in Idaho to request free naloxone. Naloxone, the medication used to reverse an opioid overdose, saves lives when it’s given quickly because it blocks the effects of opioids on the brain.

The shelf-life for naloxone is three years. Often referred to by the nasal spray brand name, Narcan, it must be administered by someone other than the individual experiencing the overdose, making it important for friends, family, and first responders to carry it.

Someone who administers naloxone to a person who appears to be experiencing an opioid overdose is legally protected by Idaho’s Good Samaritan Law. This law, along with recent statute changes, encourages Idahoans to administer naloxone and leave any extra doses with family and friends. Naloxone will not harm someone who does not have opioids in their system; it is recommended to give a dose of naloxone to anyone experiencing the signs and symptoms of an overdose. These include blue lips or fingertips, limpness, unresponsiveness, slow or irregular heartbeat, and small pupils.

Community organizations such as libraries, schools, bars, and restaurants, among others, are encouraged to have a supply of naloxone because it reduces the risk of death when someone is overdosing. Reversing an overdose with naloxone can save a life and help connect people to treatment.

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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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Harmful algal blooms in recreational water: When in doubt, stay out!

Most of the year, Idaho’s lakes and reservoirs are safe to enjoy. But when water temperatures increase, as they typically do in July and August, and the right type of nutrients are available, some bodies of water can produce blooms of harmful bacteria that can be dangerous for humans, pets, livestock, and wildlife. Those blooms are called cyanobacteria harmful algal blooms, or HABs for short. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is currently listing 12 bodies of water with health advisories in Idaho.

What causes harmful algal blooms?

The blooms are caused by bacteria that can produce toxins. The blooms are also referred to as cyanobacterial blooms. When weather conditions are calm and there is an increase in water temperature and nutrients, bacteria can rapidly increase and produce a bloom. Blooms can occur at any time, but they most often occur in late summer or early fall.

What do these blooms look like?

They can be blue, bright green, brown, or red and may look like paint or anti-freeze floating on the water. As the bloom develops, it may look like foam, scum, or mats on the surface of lakes and ponds.

What are the symptoms of an exposure to a bloom?

The most common health effects are skin and eye irritation. Other more severe effects can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness and tingling in lips, fingers, and toes
Continue reading “Harmful algal blooms in recreational water: When in doubt, stay out!”

A call to action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The best defense we have against COVID-19 is the vaccine

If you have been watching the news or if you tuned into our media briefing, the message is clear: as citizens, we have a responsibility to protect our neighbors, family, and friends in our community including healthcare workers and healthcare systems in Idaho.

The healthcare workers are stressed. Once again, they are seeing their emergency rooms and intensive care units fill up with COVID-19 patients. This isn’t easy for them, knowing that most of this could have been prevented with the COVID-19 vaccine.

The healthcare systems are also stressed, and in many cases, they are seeking assistance from state and federal resources. The primary issue is staffed beds. There have to be healthcare workers to take care of the patients, and there are not enough healthcare workers to staff the beds available in the state. If healthcare workers are not available, the hospitals cannot take patients.

Continue reading “A call to action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The best defense we have against COVID-19 is the vaccine”