The region’s death toll from COVID-19 continues to climb with five new fatalities reported Monday in north central Idaho.

Three of the casualties lived in Nez Perce County, one in Idaho County and one in Clearwater County. Two were men in their 50s, one from Nez Perce County and the other from Clearwater County; one of the deceased was in their 60s and two in their 70s.

Public Health – Idaho North Central District also reported 173 new cases Monday, which includes 83 in Nez Perce County, 37 in Latah County, 21 in Idaho County, 18 in Clearwater County and 14 in Lewis County.

Asotin County has added 62 cases since Friday and has a 14-day count of 279, including 23 breakthrough cases, so far, in September and 96 total since July 1. Asotin County also added five new hospitalizations to bring that total to 10.

Whitman County reported 37 new infections Monday and Garfield County added three.

Tara Macke, spokeswoman for Public Health – Idaho North Central District, said the growing numbers are worrisome.

“According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Macke said, “90 perent of these deaths could be preventable if more people were vaccinated and following CDC recommendations to wear face coverings. Loss of life is always tragic, even when expected with the increase in cases across the whole region. The COVID-19 virus will continue to infect those who are susceptible and cause critical illness to those with limited or no immunity.”

Macke noted that the vaccines are effective and “even though some individuals who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19, the data shows that vaccinated people in general tend to have lighter cases and do not require hospitalization as often as the unvaccinated.”

Macke added the health department continues to recommend that people get vaccinated, stay home when they are ill, avoid others who are ill, wash hands often, avoid gatherings where social distancing cannot be maintained and wear a face mask in high-risk situations.

St. Joseph Regional Medical Center currently has 20 patients being treated at the hospital who have tested positive for COVID-19. That is an increase of six patients since last week.

Samantha Skinner, spokeswoman for St. Joe’s, said the 20 patients currently being treated for COVID-19 “is the highest number of patients we’ve experienced at any previous point during the pandemic. We are continuing to see more patients who are very sick and patients requiring treatments and hospitalization for longer periods of time.”

Skinner said hospital staff is doing everything it can to manage the increase in COVID-19 patients while continuing to care for patients with other health care needs.

“We monitor capacity within every department each day, closely tracking fluctuations in emergency, acute and critical care areas and making adjustments to operations as needed. Hospital capacity is incredibly fluid and changes rapidly.”

Skinner said the hospital strongly urges people not to delay essential or emergency care, and if people are experiencing an emergency, they should call 911 or head to the nearest emergency unit. Patients may experience longer wait times but they will be seen. Others with less-severe circumstances may seek care at an urgent care clinic or a primary care provider’s office.

“We need our community to take action and get vaccinated,” Skinner said. “Our low community vaccination rates have put an incredible burden on our healthcare system — one that is not sustainable.”

St. Joe’s announced on its Facebook page that 89 percent of its hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated and 88 percent of its COVID-19 patients in the ICU are unvaccinated.

Tri-State Memorial Hospital has five patients being treated for COVID-19. The hospital also has reopened its COVID-19 hotline. Anyone seeking more information about the virus may call (509) 769-2215 or email COVIDHotline@tmsh.org.

The Lewiston School District is reporting 23 active virus cases among students and six active cases among staff. Student infections include two each at Camelot Elementary, McGhee Elementary and McSorley Elementary; one each at Centennial Elementary and Whitman Elementary; three at Jenifer Middle School; and 12 at Lewiston High School. Staff infections include two each at Orchards Elementary and Lewiston High School, and one each at Jenifer Middle School and Operations.

The employee vaccination rate at Lewis-Clark State College is hovering around 64 percent, Cynthia Pemberton, president of the college, said Monday. The goal is to top 80 percent by the first of October.

“I cannot be more clear,” Pemberton wrote in an email, “As long as there are hosts for the virus to infect ... not only will our collective health suffer and our health care systems strain beyond capacities but mutations will keep occurring and our pandemic lives and the protocols we are all sick of will persist.”

Pemberton added that “while many institutions across the country are requiring vaccination, like other state agencies in Idaho, L-C cannot.”

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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