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McLean, healthcare officials urge vaccines and masks indoors amid COVID-19 delta surge

After a months-long lull, COVID-19 is surging back in the Treasure Valley and Mayor McLean is encouraging Bosieans to get vaccinated.

On Wednesday, McLean appeared in a press conference alongside three healthcare system leaders to implore the community to once again mask up and find a vaccine if they haven’t already. This comes after McLean once again required masks for city employees and in city buildings after the virus returned for a fourth wave.

[Boise will reinstate mask mandate for city-owned indoor facilities; CDH ‘recommends masks indoors]

“I really deeply believe that we owe it to our kids, our community’s kids, to our family and neighbors, to our coworkers and the businesses throughout the city to get vaccinated,” she said. “Thank you to everyone who took that step as soon as they could and everyone who stepped up in the last week.”

Department of Health and Welfare officials confirmed Tuesday that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is now Idaho’s dominant strain of the virus. This strain, which officials say is more easily transmissible and could be potentially more dangerous, has been a major factor in the uptick of COVID-19 patients in the Treasure Valley’s hospital beds. The vast majority of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated.

Going downhill

Dr. Patrice Burgess with Saint Alphonsus Health System said at the presser that her health system has seen a sharp uptick in positive test results from 4% a few weeks ago up to 17%. She said this post-vaccine surge is straining an already tired healthcare system, likening the latest surge to approaching the finish line of a marathon only to see another hill in the distance.

“Our ICU now has patients with COVID that are younger, sicker and they’re unvaccinated,” she said. “We want to do everything we can to keep that from happening. We have people in their 30s on ventilators and I suspect that is partly due to the Delta variant.”

The number of patients hospitalized from COVID at St. Luke’s Health System hovered at 40 patients two weeks ago, but now it’s up to 78. St. Luke’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. James Souza said although the percentage of patients with the disease are only making up less than a quarter of their bed space, it strains the amount of care the hospital is able to provide. He said after the last 18 months there was pent-up demand for other surgeries and conditions, so adding another COVID-19 surge on top of it puts stress on the community.

“79 patients might not sound like a lot,, but it means 15 to 20% of our entire bed capacity is occupied by one diagnosis and if you put that on top of the already strained situation we’ve had you can start to see a problem,” Souza said. “We’re needing to hold patients in emergency periods for long periods of time.”

‘Masks work’

All three doctors on the call stressed getting vaccinated but also following the CDC’s guidance to wear masks indoors. Dr. David Peterman, CEO of Primary Health, said tests showed a high amount of viral load from samples of vaccinated patients who contracted COVID-19. This means even if you will not get severely ill yourself because of the shot, wearing a mask is necessary to prevent the spread to others who have not been vaccinated yet or who are ineligible because of age or medical condition.

“We want everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated, but along with that we need to wear masks indoors,” he said. “Bottom line, final answer. There is data after data all across the world that masks work. At Primary Health it was incredible how little spread of virus occurred in our clinics because I was wearing a mask, the staff was wearing a mask and the patients were wearing a mask.”

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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