The developing phenomenon of a “triple-demic” of three harmful respiratory viruses circulating in Idaho and the nation is pushing many hospitals to capacity, state and local health officials are reporting.
In a media briefing Thursday, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said state health officials’ concerns about COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus—commonly known as RSV—and influenza all surging in the colder months of 2022 and 2023 have proven to be legitimate.
“Unfortunately, we have seen our concerns turn into reality,” Jeppesen said.
The state’s senior health official said he is worried that Idahoans—perhaps weary of nearly three years of battling the COVID-19 pandemic—might not understand the gravity of the threat posed by respiratory viruses this winter.
“Hospitals across the state are full, and under a lot of stress,” Jeppesen said. “I am worried that Idahoans do not understand the huge impact that these three viruses are having on our hospital capacity, which affects all patient care.”
And, Jeppesen said, it is likely that respiratory-virus case numbers will increase as Idahoans congregate for the holidays.
“A post-holiday surge is very concerning,” he said.
The pressure on hospitals is a statewide issue, officials said, not just a problem in the more populated areas of Boise and the Treasure Valley.
Brock Bemis, medical director of the St. Luke’s Wood River Emergency Department, said Monday that flu cases are surging in the Wood River Valley, as are RSV cases, and COVID-19 has not gone away.
The Ketchum-area hospital has been treating higher-than-normal cases of RSV, Bemis said, and other viruses are not relenting.
“COVID is just kind of there now,” Bemis said. “It’s still causing hospitalizations and it looks like it’s here for good.”
St. Luke’s Wood River is currently treating more children than expected with RSV, Bemis said, and concerns remain high that the winter could bring more patients than in past years.
“We have more RSV and flu than we did in years past,” Bemis said.
One point of note, Bemis said, is that the high numbers of patients suffering from respiratory viruses is being tallied early in the cold-weather season. More cases are likely to follow, he said.
“It’s pretty early for us to have these upticks,” he said. “The flu numbers are really high. COVID numbers are just kind of steady.”
Dr. James Souza, chief physician executive for the St. Luke’s Health System, said in the Thursday briefing that health officials are concerned that the state’s hospital capacity will continue to be strained though the winter months.
“Overall, inpatient volumes in our hospital has been really high,” said Souza, who is based in Boise. “It’s a Pacific Northwest issue, and an issue across the United States.”
The issue of hospital capacity has gone somewhat unnoticed by most Idahoans, Souza said, but is a problem to be acknowledged. St. Luke’s has accepted transfer patients from distant places such as Alaska and Northern California, he said, because facilities in those regions were too overloaded to care for all of the patients they were receiving.
RSV tends to have the greatest impact on young children, Souza noted, causing inflammation in the airway and a dangerous buildup of mucus, causing breathing problems. Nonetheless, Souza said, the virus can be lethal to adults, especially those with underlying health conditions.
Last Thursday, St. Luke’s in Boise had 50 patients hospitalized for influenza treatment, Souza said.
The current surge in hospital patients is something for Idahoans to understand, Souza said, as health-care facilities start to face capacity concerns like those of the Omicron-variant COVID-19 surge last winter.
The St. Luke’s Health System has had to make adjustments in recent weeks because of the increased volume of patients, Souza said. Amid ongoing staffing challenges, St. Luke’s has had to adjust its ratio of nurses to patients, he said, and has asked some doctors and staff members to take on new roles.
As the end of the year approaches, Souza said, Idahoans will have to be prepared for some waiting periods for health care. Emergency rooms will be busy, he said, and some patients with non-critical medical problems will likely face delayed wait times for care or admittance to the hospital.
St. Luke’s could eventually have to start cancelling elective surgeries, Souza said, if hospital capacity becomes strained to the point that staff are challenged with caring for urgent cases, many of whom will be patients with respiratory viruses.
Complicating the situation, Bemis said, is supply-chain-driven shortages in basic medications, such as antibiotics. The situation is “annoying,” Bemis said but is not yet a “crisis.”
Tylenol for children runs low at times, he said, and the widely-used drug Tamiflu is not always available, he said.
As for how health officials recommend stemming another winter surge of viruses, the protocols are generally unchanged. People are advised to wear face masks, maintain consistent hand hygiene, use hand sanitizer and get COVID-19 and flu vaccines, St., Luke’s officials said. If Idahoans practice protective protocols, St. Luke’s officials said, they can relieve some of the pressure mounting on health-care facilities. ￼
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Of course the IME also fails to mention that the latest science shows the COVID vaccines undermine the immune system making people MORE likely to get COVID and die. US data gas shown this trend since last summer. Not to mention the harm of constant fear mongering, the long term immune damage from lockdowns, and the other nonsense measures imposed like masks.
Fear, fear and more fear. The hospitals have low capacity because they fired people for making what should have been a private medical decision, namely, declining the COVID vaccine, a medical intervention which has proven to be neither safe nor effective.
How many times in this article are you telling us we just don't understand how the hospitals are overloaded with sick people? I lost track. And so we are supposed to do what exactly? Cancel all our non-emergency appointments? ...What?... I thought so. It's all about the money, isn't it.
Welcome to the discussion.