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Officials activate crisis standards of care again as omicron surges in Boise, Southern Idaho


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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — As Idaho deals with the highest COVID-19 cases and positive test numbers seen so far, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has now activated crisis standards of care throughout southern Idaho.

The action was placed on three local public health districts, including Central District Health — which encompasses Ada, Elmore, Boise and Valley counties. South Central and Southwest District Health will also have crisis standards activated. Crisis standards of care allow hospitals to triage patients based on the severity of their condition and likelihood of survival.

“The highly contagious omicron variant has thrown us a curve ball,” Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in a news release. “Once again, the situation in our hospitals and health systems is dire — we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat patients.”

The biggest change Idahoans could expect under these guidelines is the standard of medical care, the release said. Patients admitted to the hospital may find a shortage of beds, equipment or supplies. Some patients may need to be moved to another hospital or out of state to get certain resources, according to Health and Welfare.

As of Jan. 19, the state was reporting 491 hospitalized patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19. That’s down from Idaho’s highest peak of 793 on Sept. 24 but more than double what the state has experienced for most of the pandemic.

The state’s currently experiencing a record number of positivity rates. More than one in three who tested for COVID-19 have been positive as of the week of Jan. 9, the latest data available.

The advisory committee met virtually on Friday and recommended activating crisis standards statewide, according to the news release. On Monday Jeppesen decided to activate the standards only in Southern Idaho based on hospital capacity, the news release said.

Spokesperson Niki Forbing-Orr told the Idaho Statesman by email that there is no timeline or deadline for Jeppesen to make the decision once he received the recommendation from the committee.

Jeppesen noted other regions of the state aren’t out of the question if the current COVID-19 trends continue. North Idaho left crisis standards Dec. 20.

Idaho has activated crisis standards once before. In September, the delta variant prompted more serious cases and hospitalizations of younger unvaccinated patients.

The Statesman reported Friday the Gem State recorded the highest number of cases in a week-long period since the pandemic began on Jan. 14, with 16,422 added to the state dashboard.

Plus, that figure is likely well below the number, as local public health districts are struggling with a backlog of more than 37,000 tests over the last two-week period.

Jeppesen said that because omicron is so much more contagious than previous variants, the record number of cases is putting a strain on the state’s health care system.

Jeppesen urged Idaho residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and wear high-quality protective masks in public places.

“It’s the most dangerous time we’ve had,” Dr. Ted Epperly, president and CEO of the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho, told the Statesman previously.