One in four Idaho COVID deaths seen in long-term care facilities

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s weekly coronavirus press conference marked a dark milestone Tuesday for long-term care facilities

IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen said the state has now seen 1,000 COVID-19 deaths in long-term care facilities. That means at least one out of every four COVID deaths in Idaho occurred in a long-term care facility.

“Long-term care” includes assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes. 

Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Kathryn Turner said the death rate in long-term care facilities has decreased this year due to the relatively high vaccination rate in those facilities. 

From April 2020 to November 2020, Turner said, the COVID-19 mortality rate in the facilities was roughly 3% and 1 out of 5 people became infected.

But from April 2021 to November 2021, the COVID-19 mortality rate in those facilities decreased to 1.3% and the infection rate was down to 1 in 10 people. 

Turner attributed that change to the vaccination rate in older Idahoans, saying “Today, half as many of them are dying as they were last year.”

She stressed the need for all residents to get a booster shot — or their first COVID-19 vaccination — if they haven’t yet.

Dr. Megan Dunay, a doctor with Keystone Medicine specializing in geriatric medicine, spoke at the press conference about the impact COVID-19 has had on long-term care, calling it a “vicious and unrelenting” cycle. 

Dunay said immunization continues to be the best way to protect people in long-term care facilities. She’s seen some consternation with unvaccinated people wanting to visit loved ones in long-term care facilities.

“No family willfully wants to expose their loved one,” Dunay said. “Vaccination is such a personal choice right now.” 

Facilities continue to try and balance the psycho-social effects of prolonged isolation in residents while also preventing infection, she said. 

The new Omicron COVID-19 variant was detected last week in Idaho. It is believed to be highly transmissible, perhaps even more so than the Delta variant. 

Any variant that is especially transmissible is problematic in a congregate living situation.

State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said Tuesday that Omicron appears to spread more quickly than Delta did, but may be less severe. 

Hahn stressed that the variant can still lead to serious illness, and vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself and others. 

It’s also believed that while the vaccination may not entirely prevent contracting Omicron, it has been shown to help prevent hospitalization by 70%.

Hahn said they also do not yet know how effective treatments like monoclonal antibodies and some antiviral treatments may be on Omicron cases. 

Visit covidvaccine.idaho.gov for more information on where to find a vaccine.


<strong>Ruth Brown</strong> | Producer
Ruth Brown | Producer

Ruth Brown grew up in South Dakota and her first job out of college was covering the South Dakota Legislature. She’s since moved on to Idaho lawmakers. Brown spent 10 years working in print journalism, including newspapers such as the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Press, as well as a paper in southern California. She’s covered everything from the correctional system to health care issues. She joined Idaho Reports in 2021 and looks forward to telling stories about how state policy can impact the lives of regular Idahoans.

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