Central District Health CDH: COVID numbers show the floor, not the ceiling
The CDC has moved Ada County to an area of high transmission levels, but the actual numbers are likely higher than reported, according to Dr. Ted Epperly.
BOISE, Idaho – The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now defines Ada County as an area of high transmission levels. This means masks are recommended for everyone indoors.
However, you wouldn’t know this if you checked the Central District Health (CDH) website for advice.
On May 20, the CDH board voted to remove all masking guidelines from its website. On Friday, the CDC defined three out of four CDH counties as high transmission areas (Ada, Elmore, Valley).
“Central District Health should become the voice of the community to warn people about these things,” said former CDH physician board member Dr. Ted Epperly. “They should be a gateway to education – appropriate, professional and respectful education – and then let the public process the information, but they shouldn’t stifle it before it reaches the public awareness.”
This lack of local guidance is of concern to Dr. Epperly, as COVID-19 cases across the state increase, along with test positivity rates and hospitalizations. Some of those numbers are likely underreported, according to Dr. Epperly.
The growing popularity of at-home COVID testing means local health districts are uninformed and unable to report many positive cases.
“It’s the floor, not the ceiling. It’s always a data point to pay attention to,” Dr. Epperly said. “I’m worried. I’m nervous that we’re sitting on top of a potential sixth wave.”
Due to inherent under-reporting, Dr. Epperly is particularly interested in sewage viral load data. Since the beginning of May, sewage virus loads from the City of Boise have steadily increased.
The Idaho Department of Health and Wellness (IDHW) has tracked vaccination rates since the start of the pandemic. IDHW figures show that 55.2% of Idaho residents over the age of 5 received their first round of vaccines. The number drops to 45% for Idahoans who also received booster shots.
Amid low vaccination rates, social behavior is one of the best tools to prevent the spread of the virus, according to Dr. Epperly.
While the CDC recommends that Ada, Elmore and Valley counties go mask-up at this time, Dr. Epperly understands that many will choose not to follow the recommendation. However, he still asks people to assess the current situation before making a decision.
“There are potential loved ones and their families who may be at greater risk than we recognize,” Dr Epperly said. “That’s where I think we need to elevate the conversation. It’s not about us as individuals, it’s about other people.”
Although CDH does not offer mask recommendations, they would like to remind people to be mindful ahead of a holiday weekend.
“We encourage the use of home testing to screen you before you participate in community activities and gatherings,” said Heidi Hopkins, CDH’s Communicable Disease Control Program Manager.
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