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"We're scared": Health officials ask residents to stay home this Thanksgiving

by EMRY DINMAN
Staff Writer | November 18, 2020 1:00 AM

Health officials in Grant and Adams counties are seeing potentially the largest rise in coronavirus cases since August and are urging local residents to stay home this Thanksgiving, cautioning that indoor gatherings already have been a major source of new cases.

“We’re scared,” said Theresa Adkinson, administrator for the Grant County Health District. “The number of Halloween parties we saw, and the number of cases we’re seeing related to that, has been overwhelming.”

The holidays and related family gatherings, which have long been a source of concern for health officials and healthcare workers, come at a particularly bad time in the course of the pandemic.

According to state officials, counties with coronavirus cases reasonably under control should have a rate of no more than 25 cases per 100,000 people in a two-week period.

As of Tuesday night, the rate in Grant County was 552, 22 times the recommendation and rivaling the last peak in August, when the county reported five deaths in a single month.

“It’s a lot to monitor,” Adkinson said. “When we start to see our rates get this high is when we start to experience a death a week.”

Things are even starker in Adams County, with a population that is 80% smaller (19,983 in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau) than Grant County’s. Its case rate exploded to more than 1,000 in recent days, said Karen Potts, administrator for the Adams County Health Department.

While local hospitals still have the capacity to see patients, other hospital systems across the country have started to falter and officials worry that rising coronavirus cases threaten to overwhelm the rest.

In Idaho, hospitals of all sizes are running out of beds for patients, the Idaho Statesmen reported earlier this month, and Moses Lake’s Samaritan Hospital has had some trouble finding larger hospitals to send patients in need of more critical care.

Adams County hospitals, which often don’t have the resources needed to handle more acute cases and sometimes need to transfer patients to larger hospitals, have experienced similar issues, Potts said.

If those problems worsen, it could have ripple effects not just for coronavirus patients, but the community.

“We have concerns that if we fill the hospitals with COVID patients, we won’t have room for people who have heart attacks or get into car accidents, those kinds of things,” Potts said. “We’re ok right now, but it just takes another bad week and that could turn around.”

Thanksgiving could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, Potts said. Even those who don’t feel sick could be carrying and transmitting the virus, and a single rapid-acting COVID-19 test before the holidays may provide little more than a false sense of security, she added.

“We so understand that people have reached COVID fatigue, and they’re tired of not being able to spend time with their families, and they’re tired of wearing masks,” Potts said. “But it’s so necessary right now.”

People who get infected at Thanksgiving and later become hospitalized may spend Christmas in the Intensive Care Unit, Potts added.

“I’m sure plenty will be anyway,” she said. “We don’t need to add to it.”