COVID-19 was the leading cause of death in Idaho in November, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced Thursday, Dec. 10.
Health officials considered the novel coronavirus the cause of death of 247 Idahoans in November, based on preliminary data collected from death certificates.
For all of 2020, COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death in Idaho, behind heart disease and malignant neoplasms (cancerous tumors), according to the state.
“Leading causes of death are based on the underlying cause of death, which is the condition that began the chain of events that ultimately led to the person’s death," the Department of Health and Welfare explained in a Thursday press release. That metric represents a subset of the total COVID-19-related death toll posted on the state’s informational dashboard. The number displayed at coronavirus.idaho.gov represents deaths wherein coronavirus was considered a contributing factor. Based on that tally, November’s death toll was 299. So far in December, that number has risen by 143.
“These data are concerning and clearly demonstrate the impact of COVID-19 in the worst possible way,” said Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch. “My heart goes out to everyone who has lost someone they love to COVID-19. This exemplifies why it’s so important to follow the recommended COVID-19 precautions to protect ourselves and others and wear a mask, be six feet away from people who don’t live with you, wash your hands, and stay home as much as possible, especially when you are sick.”
Meanwhile, the South Central Public Health District—which encompasses eight counties including Blaine County—reported Thursday that COVID-19-related deaths within the district more than doubled in November compared to October. October’s total more than doubled September’s.
“In November, 74 individuals fighting the COVID-19 virus died, totaling more deaths than the first seven months of the pandemic combined,” the press release states.
“You may see these numbers and assume the individuals were already gravely ill, but some of our highest-risk factors for severe COVID-19 symptoms are conditions that otherwise would not be considered a death sentence,” said Tanis Maxwell, epidemiology program manager. “When you consider that common conditions like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, asthma, etc. are all risk factors, you begin to realize how many Idahoans really are in danger of severe side effects from this disease.”
Of the 176 total deaths related to coronavirus recorded by the end of November in the South Central Public Health District, 84 were residents of long-term care facilities. The Health District reports that 39 of 56 care facilities in the region currently have an active outbreak of the virus. Several are “uncontrolled,” meaning they have more than five cases among staff and residents.
“These are our most vulnerable population in the state. Not only are they typically in their later years, but they are living in close quarters with each other and have frequent interactions with staff who come in and out of the facility every day,” said Brenda Gully, COVID-19 Rapid Response Leader. “If the virus is spreading rapidly in our community it will find its way into these facilities and the impact is often deadly.”
State considers Crisis Standards of Care
Thursday morning, Gov. Brad Little held a press conference to explain that if current trends continue, the state would be forced to activate Crisis Standards of Care--a move that could diminish access to healthcare, even in urgent cases.
Little's announcement comes as hospitals across the state grow increasingly strained. Eighty percent of hospitals in the state are currently not operating normally because healthcare workers are out sick with COVID-19 and too many COVID-19 patients are being admitted, the Governor's Office stated.
“If the State of Idaho must activate the Crisis Standards of Care, you or someone you love may be turned away from the hospital or given a lower standard of care because we simply may not have enough beds, critical care doctors, nurses, and technicians to handle the number of COVID-19 patients in need of care,” Little said. “Hospitals are telling us the need to activate Crisis Standards of Care will arrive in Idaho if individual Idahoans do not make the choice to reverse the trend in our rising COVID-19 cases.”
In crisis mode, patients may not have access to hospital beds and instead receive care in “repurposed conference rooms,” paramedics may take longer to respond to medical emergencies, and breathing machines and ICU beds “may need to be directed to patients who are most likely to survive,” according to the Governor’s Office.
In light of Thursday’s announcements, the Department of Health and Welfare, the governor and the South Central Public Health District all urged residents to heed mitigation measures, including the use of face masks, social distancing, rigorous hand-washing and more.
For now, Idaho will remain under Stage 2 of Gov. Little’s statewide public health order. Stage 2 prohibits most gatherings of more than 10 people, encourages at-risk residents to self-isolate, requires masks at long-term care facilities and encourages Idahoans to work remotely when possible. Bars, nightclubs and restaurants can operate with seating only.
“I want to commend our hospitals across the state for working around the clock to share resources so we can avoid a devastating situation as much as possible,” Little said. “I also want to express my deep appreciation to our doctors, nurses, and other medical staff who are overworked and pulling extra shifts to help in the fight. You are true heroes.”
For more information, see Friday’s Idaho Mountain Express.