Idaho virus surge hits older adults; hospitalizations rise

FILE - In this March 17, 2020 file photo, Ashley Layton, an LPN at St. Luke's Meridian Medical Center, communicates with a person before taking swab sample at a special outdoor drive-thru screening station for COVID-19 in Meridian, Idaho. The co-chair of Gov. Brad Little's COVID-19 Testing Task Force says Idaho's long-term success in reopening the state during the pandemic hinges on understanding what the state and individuals have to do to defeat the coronavirus. Jim Souza is the chief medical officer for St. Luke's Health System. He says the virus is easily destroyed with soap and water or alcohol wipes, but it does a good job hiding in the population. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP, file)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An initial surge of coronavirus infections after young adults ignored social distancing and didn’t wear face coverings when the state started reopening is now playing out among older generations who subsequently became infected and are being hospitalized.

“Many of these people said they were staying home, they were trying to be careful,” said Richard Augustus, chief medical officer at West Valley Medical Center. “But they had family members coming into the home to take care of them.”

West Valley Medical Center is in the southwestern Idaho city of Caldwell. Augustus said most of the 41 admissions due to COVID-19 have been in the last week. He said ages range from the early 30s to 70s, but the majority are over 65.

“We’re having outbreaks in nursing homes, and those are staff bringing it in,” Augustus said, noting nursing homes aren’t allowing visitors. “It has to be young folks who don’t know they’re sick.”

Andrew Southard, medical director of the emergency department at Saint Alphonsus, which has two hospitals in southwestern Idaho, said he’s seeing the same.

“I think the older adults, even if they try to play it safe, as the disease prevalence increases, you’re going to see it infect subgroups of people,” he said.

On Monday, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said there were 153 patients hospitalized with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

The Trump administration earlier this week directed that information on the availability of hospital beds and intensive care units be sent to a private technology firm instead of the Centers for Disease Control, making it no longer public.

Idaho officials reported that through Thursday, Idaho had 98 intensive care unit hospital beds available. That’s a key metric as the state wants to stay above 50 beds available to care for those experiencing the worst symptoms of the disease.

Idaho had more than 13,000 confirmed cases and 114 deaths through Thursday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

And the 14-day trend for the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday was at 15.6%, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The positivity rate is a measure of how widespread the disease is in the community, and Idaho guidelines say that number needs to be under 5% to lift restrictions.

Augustus said it usually takes several weeks for someone infected to start experiencing the difficulty in breathing that will force them to a hospital, and he expects more patients.

“I don’t think we’re going to get better,” he said. “I think it’s only going to get worse in the next few weeks. You look around the country, you see those places, Texas, Florida — that’s going to be us in two weeks if we don’t do something different.”

Texas and Florida are seeing thousands of new infections each day.

The COVID Tracking Project said that Idaho had about 373 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, ranking ninth in the country for new cases per capita on Friday.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Southard said he expected another increase in hospitalizations from gatherings during the July 4 holiday. He said a wildcard is the possibility of children returning to school this fall. He also said flu season could complicate things when it arrives later this year.

I think we’re in this for kind of a long haul,” he said.

Both Southard and Augustus recommend face coverings, social distancing and hand washing.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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