Doctors, public health workers and government officials are saying social distancing is working in Idaho, and the state is beginning to flatten the coronavirus curve.
Idaho’s stay-at-home is set to end on April 15. Gov. Brad Little said things “will not return to normal on April 16,” but he hasn’t announced what restrictions will look like beyond the middle of next week, and Idahoans are wondering when they can get back to work.
During a town hall hosted by Blaine County on Wednesday evening, health officials in the community talked about what needs to happen before restrictions are lifted.
While coronavirus case numbers indicate the curve is flattening in Idaho, that trend needs to continue, said Dr. Terry O’Connor, an emergency room physician at St. Luke’s Wood River and the medical director of the Blaine County Ambulance District.
“I would like to see a steady decline in numbers, and really, a steady decline in numbers over a period of a couple weeks,” he said.
That's because there's a latency period with the virus. People who get it don't always present symptoms immediately, and it can take a couple weeks before someone might need hospitalization.
Other key indicators, O’Connor said, are the percentages of people requiring hospitalization, ICU care and intubations. Those proportions haven't declined in the past week in Blaine County, he said.
“I have not really seen a convincing trend or decline in that regard.”
Logan Hudson, the division administrator at South Central Public Health District, said Idaho shouldn’t go back to business as usual until testing availability dramatically increases.
“The ability to test anybody that needs to be tested is really one of the pillars we need to have in place before we can start peeling back restrictions,” Hudson said.
Both rapid testing and antibody tests could increase testing capacity, Hudson said, as they become more prevalent in Idaho. But, there’s still a lot the medical community doesn’t know about how antibody tests can be useful in controlling the outbreak of the virus, so studies like the one Blaine County is participating in could help communities understand how to return to normal.
Hudson also said the health system needs to be able to function normally. That means doctors should be able to do things like elective procedures again, while caring for coronavirus patients, and not get overwhelmed. And the health systems shouldn't need too many extra staff — volunteers and reserve medical personnel — to handle opening back up.
That applies to public health districts, too, which have needed to bring on volunteers to help process the high number of cases and patient investigations.
Dr. O'Connor added that while Blaine County has been able to rely on the St. Luke's Health System to send patients to Twin Falls and Boise and to draw resources from elsewhere in the state, there needs to be a sense that the whole health system definitely has enough capacity to meet ongoing demand.
“We need to feel as though we are nowhere near having what we would call crisis standards of care — where we are starting to compromise standard care for patients with these conditions because we are resource scarce,” he said.
And O'Connor said, the medical and public health systems should be prepared for when — not if — the coronavirus resurfaces.
“We should be prepared for other waves of this to come and we should be nimble enough to respond to it, but in a much more proactive fashion," he said.
Even if businesses open up and people return to work, O'Connor said, everyone will need to be flexible because there's a lot scientists don’t know about how this virus will run its course.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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