Little urges vaccinations as Delta threatens normal school year for Idaho kids

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

Gov. Brad Little warned Thursday that rising COVID-19 rates could jeopardize a normal, in-person school year for Idaho students.

At a press conference at Nampa High School, Little encouraged vaccinations as the most effective way to ensure an uninterrupted school year for Idaho’s children.

Gov. Brad Little urges Idahoans to get vaccinated at an Aug. 11 press conference at Nampa High School. Morgan McCollum/Idaho Reports

“We can minimize or limit disruptions to the delivery of education, as well as sports and extracurricular activities this school year, if Idahoans choose to be vaccinated,” he said.

On Wednesday, the state reported 736 new cases of the virus, and last week’s infection rates in some areas are matching what the state saw in January. The Saint Alphonsus Health System’s test positivity rate was at 18.2% on Wednesday.

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, the Delta variant of coronavirus is now the most dominant variant in the state, and is twice as transmissible as the original virus, including among children.

There is not yet a vaccine approved for people younger than age 12, and it isn’t yet clear when one will be approved. Little pointed to this as another reason for eligible Idahoans to choose to get the vaccine.

“They need us,” he said.

IDHW reported Wednesday that the state had administered at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to roughly 51% of people ages 12 and up. After a midsummer lull, demand for vaccines is rising. Vaccines are widely available to Idahoans. 

Little also said he will direct $30 million toward expanded COVID-19 testing in Idaho’s K-12 public schools. The $30 million is separate from the $40 million in ARPA funds for student testing the legislature declined to appropriate in the spring, and comes instead from an emergency catch-all fund.  

Little made no new policy changes, and didn’t address masks in schools in his initial comments. Some school districts, including the Boise School District and Moscow School District, have opted to mandate masks in schools regardless of vaccination status. This came after a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other districts, such as those in Caldwell and Idaho Falls, opted to only recommend masks be worn in school. 

Little also acknowledged the rise in hospitalizations. Since May 15, there have been 13 times as many COVID-19-related hospitalizations among unvaccinated Idahoans as there were among those who were fully vaccinated. Statewide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled in the last month, and ICU admissions of critically ill COVID-19 patients have more than tripled. St. Luke’s Health System in southern Idaho and Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene, recently announced they are again halting certain non-emergency procedures because of the recent increase in COVID-19 patients. 

Those metrics continue to go the wrong way. Little said according to state epidemiologists, “case counts could continue to rise over the fall and exceed last year’s peaks.” 

“The one thing that could help if people choose to get the vaccine,” he said.

Melissa Davlin contributed to this report. 

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