BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho is in a race to get people vaccinated against the coronavirus while simultaneously limiting its spread long enough to avoid running out of healthcare capacity, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Tuesday.
The Republican governor said during an hour-long call-in program put on by the American Association of Retired Persons of Idaho that the vaccination program is a high priority for him and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.
"Don't let your guard down," Little told listeners. "It's going to be a while before we get enough people vaccinated."
Idaho's top public health leaders earlier this month cleared the way for state officials to impose crisis standards of care if the number of COVID-19 patients increases so much that the state's already strained hospitals wind up completely overwhelmed.
If ordered, the crisis standards would direct hospitals to use limited resources to provide potentially life-saving treatment to the patients most likely to survive, using a scoring system that considers the ages of the patients, how healthy their organ systems are and other factors.
Little said the state on Tuesday was receiving 28,000 doses of a recently approved vaccine from Moderna Inc. That is in addition to the 13,950 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the state received last week and 9,750 doses it's getting this week.
Through Monday, 5,665 people had received the first shot of the vaccine that requires a second shot 21 days after the first.
Little said he expects vaccinations to ramp up in January as more of the vaccine becomes available, with the possibility of additional companies getting their vaccines approved by federal authorities.
The state plan calls for the first round of vaccines to go to an estimated 130,000 healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities.
Essential workers who come in contact with the public are next, tentatively starting with firefighters and police. School teachers and daycare workers are also in that group, as are food processors, grocery store and convenience store workers.
However, the state's COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee is still working on finalizing where individuals will be in the line. Many of the categories have subgroups that may or may not be prioritized.
The state now has about 131,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which Jeppesen said is about 7% of Idaho's roughly 1.8 million residents. Just over 1,300 people have died from the illness.
The state's positivity rate for those being tested reached nearly 20% earlier this month, but dipped to 16.5% last week. Officials say the positivity rate needs to be below 5%.
Little said he had no immediate plans to issue a statewide mask mandate, reiterating that he believes more Idaho residents will voluntarily wear a mask or wear one if told to by local officials than if he issued a statewide order.
Many people calling in to the program wanted to know when it would be their turn to get the vaccine, how they would find out it was their turn and where they would go to get it.
Little and Jeppesen said it was difficult to know the timing because the number of vaccines the state will receive in the coming weeks is unclear. But they said the state has a website specifically set up to let people know when it's their turn that will be updated as the picture becomes clearer.
The AARP of Idaho call-in program on Tuesday was the 29th time Little has participated in the online program that has been scheduled every two weeks and started shortly after the coronavirus was discovered in Idaho.