Friday, October 30, 2020
Doctors Urge Idahoans to Go Easy on the Labor Day Barbecues
St. Luke’s Magic Valley, where some Wood River Valley residents were taken to fight COVID, unfurled this banner early in the pandemic.
Wednesday, September 2, 2020



Beware of the backyard barbecue of 30 or more this Labor Day Weekend.

“When we talk about community spread, we’re not talking about gatherings of hundreds of people,” said Travis Leach, president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Nampa. “We’re seeing a lot of cases from backyard barbeques of 30 people, with people who didn’t know each other and didn’t  distance or wear masks.”

Paul Ries’ graph shows what happened before and during the four stages of reopening in Blaine County.

Idaho health care officials taking part in a media conference Tuesday morning said they want people to end the summer in a good way, but they’re pleading with them to be careful.

Idaho saw spikes in new cases following Memorial Day Weekend and Fourth of July. There could be a similar spike after Labor Day if Idahoans don’t exercise caution.

“You should go out and enjoy the outdoors, but you should do so in small groups. And if you’re going to be closer than six feet, mask up,” said Dr. Richard Augustus, chief medical officer for West Valley Medical. “If you don’t be vigilant, we will see an increase in coronavirus cases and we’ll be back in trouble again.”

Idaho is making headway, with the 14-average of new cases dropping below 300 for the first time since July. But we’re not out of the woods yet, health officials cautioned.

Idaho reported 280 new cases of COVID on Tuesday for 32,368 cases total. Blaine County, which has 606 cases total, reported no new cases. The state had six new deaths for 368 official COVID-related deaths.

Other parts of the world have incidence rates half of what Canyon County—home to Nampa and Caldwell--is now. And Malheur County, where many Idahoans flock to Ontario to shop for marijuana and groceries because they don’t have to pay sales tax, is as bad if not worse than Canyon County right now, said Leach.

The positivity rate—the percentage of people being tested who test positive for COVID—has gone from 14.3 percent in mid-August to 10.5 percent, said Dr. David Peterman, CEO of Primary Health Medical Group. The positivity rate started going up in mid-June when the bars opened, spurring several big outbreaks.

“Ten percent is still too high, however,” he said. “The goal is less than 5 percent,” he said, adding that the positivity rate gives doctors a sense of how much community spread is taking place.

Canyon County was and still is a hot spot in the nation, noted Dr. John Kaiser, vice president and chief medical officer of Saltzer Health. As high as 21 percent at one point, it is now 16 percent—still concerning.

“We’re very much on the treatment end when we want to be on the prevention end,” said Travis Leach, president of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Nampa.

Idaho has processed more than 246,000 COVID tests since the outbreak began.

COVID tests required up to 14 days to turn around in recent weeks as new cases skyrocketed during July and August, but they’re taking less time to process now, said Dr. Patricia Burgess, chief medical informatics officer for Saint Alphonsus Health System.

Saint Alphonsus can turn round in-house tests for emergency patients and those about to undergo surgeries and other procedures in four to 24 hours with the antigen tests it recently began using. Others, whose tests go out to a lab, are seeing their results two to three days.

Dr. David Peterman, CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, said his group was testing as many as 432 people a day this past month. But, in the past couple days, those numbers have gone down to 180. Primary Health is now using short comfortable swabs that a patient can insert a half inch into each nostril, swirling it around six times in each nostril. Most results are back within 24 to 48 hours.

Right now, the Governor’s Task Force is recommending testing for symptomatic people and high-risk persons like elderly people and essential workers such as the police and workers in care facilities. Also asymptomatic people who have been in close contact with someone who has confirmed COVID.

Data shows that between 30 percent and 40 percent of COVID cases may be asymptomatic, he said. And children may be less likely to show symptoms. So, testing of asymptomatic people is critical as schools reopen.

“I disagree with the Centers for Disease Control’s new testing guidelines that say there’s no need to test asymptomatic people,” he added. “Continuing to test is essential if we want any control of this disease. Testing is our way out of the pandemic.”

Dr. Rob Cavagnol, St. Luke’s Health System executive medical director, said he is encouraged that the 14-day positivity rate among those getting at St. Luke’s clinics drop to 7 percent.

“That tells me people in the community are starting to take this seriously and follow the three W’s of wearing masks, watching distance and washing hands,” he said. “The three W’s have to be ingrained in our behavior that every time we go to the store we need to put a mask on.”

Cavagnol said St. Luke’s does 800 to 1,000 tests a day among its clinics. Acutely ill patients with symptoms and patients being discharged to long-term care facilities use the Abbott ID Now Rapid tests, which gives results within 15 minutes.

The tests of those with symptoms are sent to outside labs where results are turned around in three to five days. That’s not optimal, but St. Luke’s hopes to get more equipment this fall that it will be able to use in-house, which should help spend things up.

St. Luke’s does not currently have the capacity to test asymptomatic people, except those preparing for surgeries and other procedures because the hospitals don’t have the capacity to do so.

The saliva test, which can be done at home, is still being refined—St. Luke’s is trying to see if it makes sense for the communities in which it is based. The antigen test using Abbott Now is inexpensive, costing $5, but its accuracy is still in question.

A COVID clinic for long-haulers—those experiencing lingering symptoms weeks and months after their diagnosis--is being opened in the Treasure Valley for those who don’t need to go to urgent care but need ongoing care, said Burgess.

“The lingering symptoms seem to be more prevalent among those who spent a long time in the hospital, perhaps on ventilators,” added Cavagnol. “They have more lingering symptoms than those with just pneumonia.”


The Corn Moon will appear tonight. The full moon gets its name from the Native Americans, who used it as an indicator that it was time to harvest the corn. Stay tuned: The Harvest Moon will appear on Oct. 1.



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