Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Officials Answer the Hard Questions Like ‘When Can We Resume Summer Concerts?’
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Local leaders will decide today whether construction projects like this can start up again or whether they need to stay shuttered a little longer to stop the spread of coronavirus in Blaine County.
 
Friday, April 10, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Construction workers and landscapers may be able to go back to work on Monday.

But it will take a steady decline in new cases over a period of time to consider lifting Blaine County’s  shelter-in-place order, officials said Wednesday night.

“We’ve seen a steady decline over the past few days. I think we need to at least see that another week before we really start making strong recommendations to peel back,” said Logan Hudson, division administrator with South Central Public Health District.

Hudson added that the county will be able to relax stay-at-home orders as it sees increased access to testing, decreasing pressure on health care facilities and a decline in overall cases.

Hudson made his comments during a Blaine County Virtual Town Hall webinar. A thousand people registered for the town hall; 760 participants tuned into, according to Larry Schoen who set it up.

More than half of St. Luke’s Wood River’s current patients have COVID-19, said Dr. Terry O’Connor, an emergency room physician and medical director for Blaine County Ambulance. While the hospital continues to treat a high number of patients for the virus, hospital officials haven’t seen the situation worsen over the past week.

Between 10 percent and 15 percent of coronavirus patients in the county have required hospitalization. Last week there were between six and 11 individuals on ventilators. The hospital has not reached capacity, he said.

“Some of are recovering faster than I would have expected,” he added. “But the trend towards those requiring hospitalization and intubation has not declined.”

O’Connor said St. Luke’s Wood River has processed a thousand COVID-19 tests and is currently processing 151—a big decrease from previous weeks. The turnaround time is speeding up as the system is no longer overloaded. But the hospital is also increasing its capacity.

“Our testing capacity will ramp up quite quickly, hopefully by the end of the week,” he added. “Today on my shift we needed a quick turnaround for someone who was needing surgery and I was able to find out whether he had COVID-19 in 15 minutes. That was a game changer.”

O’Connor said the hospital will have new testing mechanisms by early next week that will allow the hospital to process a thousand tests a day with a turnaround of 24 hours.

The first, said hospital spokesperson Joy Prudek, is rapid testing provided by Abbott Labs. Due to its limited availability, it will be used on acutely ill patients. It will also be used for patients needing an operation or some other procedure who might postpone that treatment if they learn they have COVID-19.

It takes about 15 minutes and will be utilized at St. Luke’s Wood River, St. Luke’s Magic Valley and St. Luke’s Boise. It was purchased with the help of St. Luke’s Wood River Foundation.

The other involves additional COVID-19 testing capabilities at St. Luke’s Core Lab that will increase capacity and speed up turnaround time.

“We were waiting 10 days, 14 days to get the results back,” said Logan Hudson. “Some we got back today were sent just a few days ago so this is a huge benefit getting these back sooner.”

DECISION ON CONSTRUCTION TO BE MADE TODAY

Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said valley government officials will discuss today whether they can relax restrictions on construction workers and landscapers when Blaine County’s  ordinance prohibiting such activities expires at midnight Sunday.

 Greenberg said he was optimistic, provided the number of new coronavirus cases remains flat. But workers would need to follow certain guidelines, including using hand washing stations and refraining from sharing tools. Perhaps, one subcontractor might work one day and another the next day to achieve social distancing, he added.

Unfortunately, the news on Thursday was not as encouraging as it had been. After no new cases reported on Wednesday and only five the day before, 18 new cases were confirmed on Thursday for a total of 446.

HOW ABOUT OTHERS GOING BACK TO WORK?

Employers should prepare for what work environment might look like if they need to operate under social distancing guidelines, said Jacob Greenberg. They should plan how they can space out their employees as they return to work and consider whether employees should wear masks.

“And, if you can continue to work from home, do so,” he added.

SCREENING AIRPLANE PASSENGERS

One Webinar viewer asked whether people flying into Friedman Memorial Airport would be screened. Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said the number of people flying to SUN has dropped dramatically since the county went into lockdown mode.

“We don’t think right now (screening is) necessary and we’re not even sure if it’s legal,” he added.

The airport is governed by Federal Aviation Administration rules, and local government officials do not have the authority to close it, he added. There are signs at Friedman and Atlantic Aviation notifying those arriving of the need to self-isolate or quarantine for 14 days.

CAN WE SHUT BLAINE COUNTY OFF TO THE REST OF THE WORLD?

Jacob Greenberg said county officials do not have the authority to stop second homeowners or fulltime residents from returning to their homes in Blaine County. But under the current stay-at-home guidelines they are required to self-isolate in their homes for two weeks.

IS IT SAFE FOR COVID-19 SURVIVORS TO GO TO THE STORE, HANG OUT WITH OTHERS?

It’s still important for those who have recovered from COVID-19 to wear masks and refrain from congregating with others, said Logan Hudson.

“We don’t want you to think you’re invincible. We don’t know how long you can shed the virus and we don’t know how long you might have immunity, if any,” he said.

Dr. Terry O’Connor recommended that those who have recovered wear masks for up to 21 days as an additional layer of security.

“You don’t get an invincible shield of armor that you’re not going to get coronavirus again. Today I saw a woman at work who had recovered and now has what looks like COVID-19 again,” he said.

DO THOSE WHO HAVE HAD CORONAVIRUS GET ANTIBODIES THAT CONFER IMMUNITY?

Dr. Terry O’Connor said that, while he has not been sick, he has been exposed to coronavirus at work every day.

“I would be interested to see if I’ve developed an immunity response. But it would not change anything about how I go about my daily work or the fact that I wear a protective mask with anyone who comes in. If you come in for an ankle sprain, I’m going to be wearing a mask because I could be asymptomatic today and sick tomorrow.”

O’Connor added that health officials don’t know if antibodies grant immunity and, if so, how long that immunity would last.

“We are still figuring it out. It was called a novel coronavirus for a reason. We don’t have solid answers about how useful antibodies can be right now.”

CITATIONS AND ROADBLOCKS

Blaine County Sheriff Steve Harkins said he has had scattered reports of people not complying with social distancing and stay-at-home orders. “I wish people would take it more seriously,” he added.

He asked the citizens do not report violations on Facebook nor that they overload emergency 911 with complaints. And he reiterated that the National Guard will not be putting up roadblocks, nor will his deputies stop travelers coming into the county and ask them for documentation.

Deputies have not issued any citations for people breaking the stay-at-home order.

“If we need to, we will enforce the regulations, but we’re hopeful citizens will comply and use good judgment,” he added.

COVID-19 IN THE JAIL

There have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Blaine County Jail, said Blaine County Sheriff Steve Harkins. However, he said, four employees with the sheriff’s department have been tested. One was positive and is recovering at home.

WHEN WILL THE GYMS AND TENNIS COURTS REOPEN?

Jacob Greenberg said they will not be reopened while state stay-at-home orders are in place.

“If the state says gyms are closed, gyms will remain closed,” he said.

 CAN WE PLAN SUMMER EVENTS?

It’s okay to plan summer events but organizers must be flexible and nimble enough to respond quickly should another wave of coronavirus cases hits, said Dr. Terry O’Connor. Until a vaccine is developed, additional waves of coronavirus cases are guaranteed.

 “We may have a resurgence at some point and we may have to reenact a lot of these guidelines again,” he added.

Logan Hudson said the ability to do more tests with a quicker turn around will be huge as society relaxes stay-at-home orders. Rapid-fire testing will allow health officials to quarantine a person with COVID-19  right away and contact those that person might have come in contact immediately to determine what they need to do to stop the spread.

“We can’t open things back up and not be able to test somebody that is sick. We can’t go back to two weeks of backlog, restricting who we’re testing. And we need to have the capacity within the health care system to take care of these patients and people with every other medical conditions,” he said.

Dr. Terry O’Connor said at some point local health officials want to test everyone in the county: “Testing is going to be the quickest way to get us to our new normal.”

 

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