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Eastern Idaho Public Health asking for feedback regarding COVID-19 Regional Response Plan

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IDAHO FALLS — Eastern Idaho Public Health has developed a COVID-19 Regional Response Plan to prepare for whatever might happen in the future with the virus.

But before it gets approved by the health district’s board members, EIPH would like to get the communities feedback on it.

The plan was presented during a board meeting Thursday and publicized Friday. If approved, the plan would apply to all eight counties within the EIPH region including Bonneville, Clark, Custer, Fremont, Jefferson, Lemhi, Madison and Teton.

“We’re still learning everyday lessons from this pandemic,” EIPH Director Geri Rackow said. “The plan is a fluid document … there could be a potential that we’d need to adjust a little bit. We need to be fluid because things are continually changing.”

As explained during the meeting, the proposed plan comes as Idaho’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic transitions from a statewide response to a regional response.

The plan is divided into four different sections that are color-coded — green, yellow, orange and red.

“The ultimate goal of this plan is to ensure during the COVID-19 pandemic that healthcare capacity is maintained for all patients needing care – not just COVID patients,” the plan states. “Furthermore, we want to minimize the impact to our economy as much as possible while still protecting public health.”

Listed below are the four categories that make up the plan and what they entail.

Green – minimal risk

The minimal risk category explains that regardless of what risk level is in place during the pandemic, everyone is still asked to do several things.

People should remember to stay home if sick, maintain physical distance, wear face coverings when physical distancing isn’t possible, wash hands or use hand sanitizer and monitor your health.

The COVID-19 Regional Response Plan. | Courtesy Eastern Idaho Public Health

Yellow – moderate risk

The step right above minimal is the moderate risk category. There are two scenarios that could lead to eastern Idaho entering the moderate risk level.

The first scenario is that the rate of active cases (people in isolation due to a COVID-19 infection) becomes greater than 10 people for every 10,000 for a sustained three day period. In a more populous county like Bonneville that would mean 120 active cases, but Jefferson County would only be 30 active cases or two in Clark County.

The second scenario is that a regional hospital’s intensive care unit bed capacity reaches 90% two to three times per week.

If either situation is met, they may consider an order for mandatory face coverings when in public, gatherings would be limited to no more than 150 people and they’d encourage telework where possible and feasible with business operations.

It’s important to note that everything that’s in place at a lower level would continue to the next level of risk as well.

Orange – high risk

The high-risk category could be met in three different ways.

One, when the rate of active cases becomes greater than 20 people for every 10,000 for a sustained three days period.

Two, when outbreaks occur at places such as hospitals/healthcare providers and at congregate living facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

And three, when regional hospitals’ total bed capacity is reaching 90% two to three times per week.

The COVID-19 Regional Response Plan. | Courtesy Eastern Idaho Public Health

If one of those scenarios happens, the plan says things such as gatherings would be limited to no more than 50 people, vulnerable populations would be encouraged to self-isolate and they’d recommend hospitals suspend scheduled, non-essential surgeries. All plans from the lower levels would also remain in effect.

Red – critical risk

The final category is reached in two ways.

One, when hospital capacity, including the ICU, is consistently at or above 100% and surge capacity cannot be maintained. Surge capacity is when patient volumes make it difficult or exceed a hospital’s servicing capacity.

And two, when crisis standards of care are implemented. This is a situation where it becomes impossible to provide the normal or standard level of care to patients.

The COVID-19 Regional Response Plan. | Courtesy Eastern Idaho Public Health

In this worst-case scenario, a stay-at-home order is issued and schools should also implement plans in response to the guidelines and those of Idaho Back to School Framework 2020.

Moving forward

Rackow explained that part of the challenge with COVID-19 is they don’t know how long it will last.

“There is no end in sight as far as I can tell right now,” she said.

In the plan, it mentions that it won’t be in effect indefinitely, but it’s not possible to determine the exact length of time it will be needed.

“The risk assessment and mitigation strategies included in the plan will be in effect until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, treatment options for COVID-19 are readily available or other mitigating factors currently not known are identified,” the plan says.

The plan is available to view on EIPH’s website. Comments can be submitted through a link on the website, by emailing them to COVIDquestions@eiph.idaho.gov with the words “Plan Comments” in the subject line or by fax to (208) 525-7063. The deadline for public comment is July 14 at noon.

The board will meet again Tuesday evening to vote on the plan.

“I believe this board is taking our responsibility very seriously,” EIPH Board of Health Chairman Bryon Reed said. “I believe we are comfortable with being open, stating our points and finding the best solution, and I think that’s where we’re supposed to be.”

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