Sept. 16 COVID hospitalizations

On Sept. 13, 678 people across Idaho were hospitalized with COVID-19—around 20 times more than during July lulls.

Caving under a torrent of COVID-19 cases, hospitals across Idaho took the unprecedented step of implementing statewide care-rationing on Thursday morning, the Department of Health and Welfare announced.

The state’s Crisis Standards of Care Activation Committee recommended the move after a request from St. Luke’s Health System, Idaho’s largest hospital network. Providers in north Idaho already shifted to crisis standards of care—essentially, triage—last week.

“Our hospitals and health care systems need our help,” Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in a statement. “The situation is dire—we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident.”

Developed last year in response to the pandemic, crisis standards provide guidelines to doctors and hospitals on “how to deliver the best care possible under the extraordinary circumstances of an overwhelming disaster or public health emergency,” according to a Department of Health and Welfare statement.

“[Patients] may have to wait for a bed to open, or be moved to another hospital in or out of state that has the resources they need,” the statement continued. “Or they might not be prioritized for the limited resources that are available. In other words, someone who is otherwise healthy and would recover more rapidly may get treated or have access to a ventilator before someone who is not likely to recover.”

Crisis standards of care signify the most extreme circumstances, when staff, space and supplies are thoroughly taxed.

Last week, St. Luke’s Wood River in Ketchum took in COVID-19 patients from other network hospitals for the first time, spokeswoman Joy Prudek told the Express. In a Wednesday town hall, Jeppesen suggested that Magic and Treasure Valley hospitals were close to crisis levels.

On Monday, 678 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across Idaho, an all-time high; 173 of those were in the intensive care unit—tied for another high. During an ebb in cases on July 9, just 34 people were in hospitals with COVID, with 20 in the ICU.

"Our local hospitals have been under incredible stress for too long because of the surge in COVID-19 cases. We’re now at the point providers will have to decide who gets treatment and who has to wait,” said Melody Bowyer, South Central Public Health District Director.

Officials pin the recent wave to the particularly virulent delta variant of the coronavirus. Since vaccines became widely available, nearly all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths—roughly 99%—have come among unvaccinated Idahoans, according to state data. At around 50%, Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation.

On Thursday, Jeppesen once again urged residents to get the shot.

“The best way to end crisis standards of care is for more people to get vaccinated,” he said. “It dramatically reduces your chances of having to go to the hospital if you do get sick from COVID-19. In addition, please wear a mask indoors in public and outdoors when it’s crowded to help slow the spread”

Boyer agreed.

"We don’t have to be here," she said. "We can fight back this disease, lessen the strain on our hospitals, and protect lives if we all choose to get vaccinated as soon as possible."

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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