Idaho agency drops crisis standard of care

The crisis standards of care that allowed hospitals running at or above capacity to prioritize patient care was officially deactivated Monday by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The designation was adopted briefly at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in September but discontinued after about a month. The crisis standards had been in effect for the state’s five northern-most counties since Sept. 7. Those counties are Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah and Shoshone. The entire state went into crisis standards from Sept. 16-Nov. 22.

According to a news release from the health and welfare department, the number of COVID-19 patients in the state remains high and continues to stress the health care system. But the surge is currently no longer exceeding the health care resources available.

Dave Jeppesen, director of the health and welfare department, said deactivating crisis standards of care is good news for Idaho.

“We’re still watching the omicron variant very closely,” Jeppesen said, “because this is a precarious time. Omicron seems to spread more easily between people and we all need to keep taking precautions against COVID-19 by getting vaccinated or getting a booster dose, wearing masks in crowded areas, physically distancing from others, washing our hands frequently and staying home if we’re sick to avoid overwhelming our health care systems again.”

The omicron variant appeared in the state last week. Much about the omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness.

Scientists have said omicron spreads even easier than other coronavirus strains, including delta, and it is expected to become dominant in the U.S. by early next year.

Preliminary studies suggest people who are vaccinated will need booster shots for the best chance at preventing omicron infections but even without the extra dose, being vaccinated still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with just under 46 percent of Idahoans fully vaccinated against coronavirus, according to numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The news release said the situation at each health care system remains fluid and variable. They are continuing to experience a higher than normal number of patients and will implement their plans to return to a usual standard of operations according to their own policies. In addition, the state will continue to provide resources, including health care personnel through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and existing federal contracts until the situation stabilizes.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Monday that Idaho will join 26 other states to file an emergency motion to reinstate the stay in the U.S. Supreme Court on President Biden’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration vaccine mandate on private business. A three-judge panel in the Sixth Circuit dissolved the stay Friday, allowing the OSHA rule to go into effect.

Little said in a news release that the majority of the nation’s governors oppose Biden’s vaccine mandate policies. Two other vaccine mandates remain stayed in the federal courts, he added.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals previously stayed the OSHA emergency temporary standard from taking effect. That case was consolidated with numerous other challenges and transferred to the Sixth Circuit. One of the three judges on the Sixth Circuit panel opposed the decision to reinstate the stay.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the states’ motion in January.

Public Health – Idaho North Central District reported 40 new cases Monday, including two in Lewis County; three in Clearwater County; 14 each in Latah and Idaho counties, and 17 in Nez Perce County.

Whitman County had one new case; Garfield County documented two and Asotin County officials did not provide updated information.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.