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Hospital board hears COVID-19 updates

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IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI)-Regional hospitals report the number of new COVID-19 cases is improving slightly, despite fears of a surge of disease after the holidays.

Eastern Idaho Public Health officials speculate there may be several possible reasons for the improvement. First, they suspect the general public recognized the threat of the virus on hospitals and did their best to avoid spread of the disease. Officials also point out that at least 10% of the local population has already been exposed, lowering new case numbers. And, they suspect the holiday school break may have helped slow spread of the virus.

The exception is Teton County, which, like Teton County, Wyoming, is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. Officials speculate that may be because both counties are travel destinations attracting out-of-area crowds.

As a result of lower case numbers, Custer County will move to minimal risk category on Friday. Fremont and Lemhi Counties could move into minimal risk designation, if exposure levels hold through Thursday. 

Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center reported Thursday that it has 24 COVID-19 patients with 8 in intensive care. The hospital’s staffing pressure has been eased by “travelers," which are out-of-area medical personnel contracted for short-term work.

EIRMC officials told the Health Board they have not seen a lot of flu or other respiratory disease so far this winter. About 70% of the hospital staff has accepted COVID-19 vaccine. 

Less staff out sick has also helped EIRMC meet an employment crunch.

Idaho Falls Community Hospital reported 10 COVID-19 patients and 2 in intensive care. It too hired “travelers” to help offset staffing demand, so it is not experiencing pressure right now. 

And, Madison Memorial reported an average of two to four patients. Hospital CEO Dr. Rachel Gonzales noted the people coming to the hospital with COVID-19 are more serious cases than they have been until now. Many are being referred to Idaho Falls facilities. But, she said new treatments are beginning to make a dent in the pandemic’s toll as well.

About 85% of Madison Memorial’s medical staff has accepted vaccinations. Gonzales said a large number of the remaining 15% declined for medical reasons.

The health district is continuing to offer free testing through February, although the number of people seeking it is quite low.

Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are still the only vaccines authorized, although three more companies are in late-stage trials.

The first round of local vaccinations focused on long term care facilities and should wind up this week. By Wednesday, January 20, the vaccinations are expected to open to first-responders of the region. It’s expected to be available to people aged 65 and older starting February 1st, followed by essential workers.

In Idaho, Walgreen’s and CVS pharmacies will be offering vaccinations, although CVS was unable to fulfill its commitment in the eastern Idaho region.

You can keep track of changing COVID-19 information, vaccination schedules and sign up for vaccine eligibility notification on the Eastern Idaho Public Health website.

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