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Some Treasure Valley primary care offices are overwhelmed by omicron

A masked employee at Primary Health Medical Group administers a COVID-19 test to a patient in a car.
Otto Kitsinger
FILE - An employee gives instructions for self-administering a COVID-19 test in the parking lot at Primary Health Medical Group's clinic on Nov. 24, 2020, in Boise, Idaho. Doctors' offices and urgent care centers are bracing for impact as they again face high patient demand and more staffers out sick from the the super-contagious omicron variant.

More than 2,000 people showed up at Primary Health Medical Group’s 21 urgent care clinics this Monday. That’s the second-highest number of visitations the company has ever seen in a day — only lower than Sept. 7, 2021, when North Idaho entered crisis standards of care about a week earlier than the rest of the state.

Idaho's data dashboard does not show an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations right now. But Dr. David Peterman, the CEO of Primary Health and a pediatrician, said primary care practices are feeling stretched.

“You start seeing the ramifications go beyond just what the commentators are talking about, which is current hospitalizations," he said.

Primary Health is administering near-record numbers of daily tests and the test positivity rate over the past week is 26.7%, similar to what it was just before crisis standards of care were enacted. About 50 staff members — close to 10% of Primary Health's total employees — are out of work due to illness or a positive test result.

"Suddenly you’re at the point where you can’t see the patients for their normal chronic needs," Peterman said. Those issues range from hypertension to mental health.

When COVID-19 is spreading through a community, family doctor's offices are usually the first to notice an uptick in illness, as people show up to get tested, wondering if their symptoms mean they have the virus.

"You begin to see that primary health is the barometer," Peterman said. "We see the increased demand for services before anyone else."

He agrees with national experts saying that, on average, omicron appears to present less severe illness for most people. But higher transmission rates mean more people are becoming infected, and a large pool of infected people still could translate to a high number of hospitalizations — especially in a state like Idaho, where just over 46% of the total population is fully vaccinated.

Peterman wants to remind people that wearing masks and getting vaccinated affects other community members who might need medical attention in the future.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen 

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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