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Idaho's COVID numbers drop slightly, crisis standards remain

| November 5, 2021 7:00 AM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations and newly confirmed coronavirus cases has been dropping in Idaho, but the numbers are still high enough to leave hospitals overtaxed, Idaho Division of Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch said Tuesday.

That means hospitals will remain under a "crisis standards of care" designation for now, giving them the ability to ration health care as needed to deal with high numbers of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units and hospital beds.

The state's positivity rate of new cases is still more than double the 5% goal set by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Shaw-Tulloch said. More than 1,000 new cases were reported to the state on Monday, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. More than 3,570 Idaho residents have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

But for some parents, hope was on the horizon Tuesday as a CDC advisory committee unanimously voted to recommend that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine be approved for use in 5- to 11-year-old children. More than 23,000 child-size vaccine doses have already been shipped by the vaccine manufacturers to Idaho, said Sarah Leeds, manager of the Idaho Immunization Program, and more than 11,000 doses were delivered to the state on Tuesday.

If the CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, gives final approval to the kid-size doses as expected, Leeds said, health care providers in Idaho could begin putting shots in arms as soon as later this week or early next.

"This is a significant step forward in our ability to prevent COVID-19 illness in children," Leeds said.

Roughly 55 percent of the eligible residents ages 12 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so far, according to the state, but vaccination rates are much higher in older age groups and lower in younger age groups. About 33 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated in Idaho, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The number of new pediatric COVID-19 cases has also dropped since reaching a peak of about 1,700 new cases in one week in late September. Still, they remain high overall, with just under 1,000 new pediatric cases tallied during the last week of October. That's close to the level of child COVID-19 cases the state saw during last winter's surge.

While children generally experience milder coronavirus illness than older adults, they are not without risk, said Dr. Lisa Barker, a pediatrician.

"It's really important to know that kids are not spared from the harm of COVID-19, although severe disease is less common in this age group," Barker said.

In the U.S., there have been more than 8,300 hospitalizations of kids ages 5 to 11, about a third requiring intensive care, according to government data. At least 94 children have died nationwide, according to CDC data.

Some children develop a rare but serious inflammatory disease about four weeks after their COVID-19 infection, Barker said. Multisystem Inflammatory System in Children, also called MIS-C, causes inflammation in several organ systems, and can result in kids requiring hospitalization and even intensive care, Barker said.

One 6-year-old child she cared for had a very mild coronavirus case but came back to her office about a month later "with just sort of head-to-toe symptoms," including a rash, prolonged fever, and evidence of inflamed internal organs, Barker said. The child required extensive hospitalization.

"It's important to recognize that the viral illness itself is not the only danger to these little guys," she said.