Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Tuesday that he is taking a variety of actions to relieve pressure on the state's health care systems, which are so stressed by high numbers of COVID-19 patients that they are close to surpassing capacity.

In an earnest eight-minute speech delivered online, Little said the problem is so severe that the state is “dangerously close” to activating statewide Crisis Standards of Care, emergency measures that result in the rationing of health care resources. Making that move would be “an historic step that means Idahoans in need of health care could receive lesser standards of care or may be turned away altogether,” Little said.

“In essence, someone would have to decide who can be treated and who cannot,” he said. “This affects all of us, not just patients with COVID-19.”

Because “too many people with COVID-19 need care,” hospital beds are mostly full and staff and essential equipment are limited, Little said.

During a tour of a nearly full ICU on Monday, Little said he was informed that only four of 400 ICU beds in the state were unoccupied.

“Idaho hospitals are beyond constrained,” he said. “… It’s simply not sustainable.”

To address the crisis, Little said he is enlisting 370 people to help health care organizations in the state. The U.S. General Services Administration will provide 200 medical and administrative personnel, Little said, and the U.S. Department of Defense will send to Idaho an additional 20 clinical staff. Little said he will also mobilize 150 National Guard soldiers to support short-staffed facilities through performing lab work, screening and other duties.

Last week, the state opened three COVID-19 antibody treatment centers, Little noted, and is releasing funds for short-handed hospitals to attract and retain staff. The state is also temporarily waiving licensing fees for inactive or retired nurses to rejoin the workforce to assist hospitals and clinics.

“I hope it will be enough,” Little said.

With Idaho “teetering on the brink,” the governor said more residents need to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Almost all COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Idaho are among unvaccinated people, he noted.

“It is our ticket out of the pandemic,” Little said.

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