We must remain diligent in our fight against COVID-19: A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

Across the United States — from news organizations, healthcare organizations, and public health departments – the message is clear, we must remain diligent against COVID-19, particularly as cases continue to rise and hospitals fill up. As winter approaches and Americans grow weary of masks and physical distancing, we cannot let up. We must not let our guard down. We must continue to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from this virus.

If we tire of taking preventative measures, then we run the risk of seeing our friends and family unnecessarily exposed. One third of Idahoans have underlying health conditions, which means all of us interact with someone who is at high risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if infected.

I know that it is not always easy to follow the recommended precautions, particularly when we participate in small social gatherings or family get-togethers. This will be especially true as we head into the holidays. But it is precisely those friends and family you protect when you wear a mask, maintain six feet of distance, cover coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often, and stay home when you’re sick.

Thank you for doing your part to combat the spread of COVID-19.

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Slowing the spread of COVID-19 depends on you: A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

Gov. Brad Little at his press conference yesterday reminded us all that most of this battle against the spread of COVID-19 is about personal responsibility. We are asking Idahoans to wear a mask. Keep six feet of distance between yourself and others in public places. Wash your hands often. Cover coughs and sneezes. And, stay home if you are sick.

As we watch cases increase in Idaho, and we see the cases increase significantly in those ages 18-29, we have to ask ourselves: Are we doing all we can do to protect our families and communities? We all have to do our part.

Celebrating Halloween safely

As the weather turns colder, many of us may retreat indoors, hoping for safety among family and friends. Unfortunately, that is where we often see cases spreading – through smaller, more intimate gatherings.

And now we are approaching the holidays, a time where we cherish those moments with friends and family. And right around the corner is Halloween. Some Halloween traditions may look different this year to keep everyone safe during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is suggesting many ways you can both enjoy the holiday while keeping your family safe.. The CDC outlines plenty of ways families can have fun while avoiding being exposed to or spreading the virus.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Testing and Idaho schools

Q: I have heard there are testing programs for teachers and staff in Idaho schools. What are they?

There are a couple of different things happening on the testing front for schools.

The Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee, or CFAC, approved funding for the Department of Health and Welfare(DHW) to help expedite COVID-19 testing for teachers and school staff, specifically for those without insurance or if their insurance will not pay for the testing.

DHW is working very closely with Idaho’s local public health districts on subgrants to assist with agreements with testing entities, contact tracing, outbreaks in the school setting. One of the subgrant activities is for the local public health districts to implement agreements with testing facilities in their area. This helps to prioritize testing for teachers and school staff.

There are also funds in these subgrants to reimburse the testing facilities the PHDs have agreements with for the uninsured or underinsured teachers and school staff. DHW is also working on agreements with pharmacies, labs, and businesses to prioritize testing for teachers and school staff.

The agreements we’re implementing are for PCR tests (the gold standard for testing) that can be self-administered by teachers and school staff. The tests can be done at home and include a prepaid overnight shipping envelope to send to the contacted laboratories.

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Stay vigilant when it comes to COVID-19: A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen

As it is for all Idahoans, it’s distressing for us at the Department of Health and Welfare to see COVID-19 case counts rising again. Without a vaccine or a proven therapeutic treatment, the answer to slow the spread of this virus is simple, and I can’t say it enough: Wear a mask, wash your hands often, keep six feet of physical distance between yourself and others, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home if you are sick.

I understand we are all tired of this virus, and anxious to return to a sense of normalcy. I want that, too, but even more importantly, I want the people of Idaho to be safe from this virus. Please don’t let your guard down. Please heed the science, stay vigilant, and follow those guidelines. 

The stress and trauma of COVID-19

According to a JAMA Network study, the number of adults experiencing depression has tripled in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic. There is no question: COVID-19 is a traumatic event for healthcare, public health, and frontline workers, parents and children, our economy, our communities, and our health and safety. And, sadly, there have been more than 200,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in the United States.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Counting cases associated with Idaho schools

Q: The state has started posting a weekly summary of the number COVID-19 cases that are reported in each school. How are those numbers compiled?

A: Gathering case counts associated with schools is not an easy process. Information is gathered by state public health epidemiologists from local public health reports, media stories, and school reporting, and are limited to available information.

Disease tracking is based on a person’s usual place of legal residence. Local public health districts don’t know what school a child attends until they do the case investigation, and the parent agrees to provide that information. Public health officials will know some basic demographic information such as age and sex of the child, but they won’t know the school a child attends until a case investigation is conducted and the information is provided. If a parent isn’t able to be contacted or doesn’t provide the name of the school their child attends, then public health won’t know that information.

The weekly summary is not complete, but it is the best information we can provide at the state level at a certain point in time to give parents and others an idea for how COVID-19 is affecting their schools. We continue to work to improve this system and provide as much information as possible so that parents, school officials, teachers, and others can use it to make informed decisions as the pandemic continues.

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COVID Q&A: Schools

As children go back to school, parents are confused about some of the guidelines, especially about when they should keep a child home from school. When should a child be kept home?

The school setting has a large influence on your child’s health and well-being. The school environment provides educational instruction, supports social and emotional skills, safety, speech, mental health, nutrition, and opportunities for physical activity. If your child is participating in in-person classes, they can attend unless they are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses or have been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.

It is important to help your child promote behaviors that reduce the spread of infections including social distancing, washing hands, and wearing cloth face coverings.

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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: https://www.pfizer.com/health/coronavirus/pledge
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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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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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