Idaho likely won’t meet criteria for fourth attempt exiting Stage 4 of reopening plan

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Posted at 3:40 PM, Aug 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-05 17:48:26-04

This story was originally published by Rachel Roberts in the Idaho Statesman.

Idaho began Stage 4 of Gov. Brad Little’s Idaho Rebounds plan on June 13.

The state has since been unable to exit the final stage three times, and it appears poised to fail a fourth straight time, according to an analysis of data published by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Little is scheduled to address the state’s coronavirus situation in a press conference at noon Thursday on Idaho Public Television.

Idaho must meet six criteria to exit the Idaho Rebounds plan. The Gem State cruised through the first three stages of reopening but has spent nearly two months stalled in Stage 4 as the virus has spread.

Multiple categories have held the state back in previous attempts at exiting Stage 4, including daily case average, health care worker infections, test positivity rate and emergency department visits for COVID-19-like symptoms.

Health care worker infections and ER admissions with COVID-19-like symptoms could end up being the latest stumbling blocks for the state.

While the rest of the state is in Stage 4, Central District Health moved Ada County back to Stage 3 in late June and instituted a countywide mask mandate on July 14 to address a rise in cases. CDH will determine when restrictions can be lifted in Ada County.

Here’s a breakdown of how Idaho apparently fared in each category for Stage 4, Take 4:

  • Health care worker infections reached a record high during the reopening process, with 364 new infections added to the state’s total during the current evaluation period (July 22-Aug. 4) — an average of 26 per day. But Health and Welfare’s day-by-day numbers in previous gating criteria reports have been different than the totals added to the department’s website during each evaluation period. That makes it impossible to predict how this category will turn out.

IDHW reported a downward trend in the daily numbers for health care worker cases during the last two evaluation windows to pass this category. However, 40 new health care worker infections were added on the final day of the current evaluation period, which is the second-most in a single day for this window.

  • Idaho hasn’t failed the ER admissions category yet, but the current average is above the 2-per-day threshold, at 2.14 per day. That’s the highest it’s been since the reopening process began.

However, the state could still pass this category if a downward trend in admissions is shown.

  • Idaho averaged 19.4 emergency room visits per day with COVID-19-like illnesses during this 14-day evaluation period (July 20-Aug. 2). That’s down from the 23.4 average during the previous 14-day window and just below the 20-per-day threshold. The current trend also appears downward, peaking at 29 visits statewide on July 23 down to 14 on the last day of the evaluation period.

It’s still possible the data could change, which isn’t uncommon with ER data, but usually cases are added rather than removed. Health and Welfare sets the last day of the evaluation period for ER data four days before a decision (Sunday in this case) with this in mind.

  • Although the daily case average (confirmed and probable) is much higher than health experts would like, the current average (462.9) is down from the previous 14-day window (514). A downward trend in cases is enough to pass this category, or the state could proceed with a downward trend in the positivity percentage.

During the previous evaluation period, Health and Welfare reported a positive rate of 13.6%. The most recent week of data available shows the state had a positive rate of 13.2% for July 19-25. But the daily positivity numbers aren’t publicly available, so it’s impossible to forecast this category.

  • Idaho is expected to meet criteria based on available ICU beds, ventilators and supplies, and for staying out of a “crisis standards of care” situation.

Stage 1: 24.7 per day

Stage 2: 28.8

Stage 3: 36.5

Stage 4: 85.9

Stage 4, round 2: 299.7

Stage 4, round 3: 514

Stage 4, round 4: 462.9

Note: These case numbers reflect the evaluation windows during each stage, which had slightly different dates than the actual stage.