EIRMC ER

The emergency room entrance is seen at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls.

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Local doctors on the frontlines say it’s too soon to say whether eastern Idaho’s decline in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations will continue.

Daily new infection reports have dropped almost 50% since March 14, when a surge placed Idaho Falls and Rexburg in the New York Times’ top 10 metropolitan areas for highest caseloads.

At that time with a steady 50 locals hospitalized with the virus each day in late March, hospitals complained about resource constraints. On Monday, 34 locals were in hospitals with COVID-19 — a low rate last seen in early March.

The region’s largest hospital had only about two-thirds of its intensive care unit beds full on Tuesday, said Dr. Kenneth Krell, who directs Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center’s ICU. Just five COVID-19 patients occupied those beds, he said. In mid-March, meanwhile, about 27 of its 29 staffed ICU beds were full, according to federal data.

While it’s unknown how things will pan out, Krell said he’s worried that people under “COVID fatigue” may be laxer with protective measures.

“Hopefully what we’re seeing is a trend in the decreased number of cases in the region and that hopefully that’s gonna stick,” Krell said in a Tuesday morning phone interview. “But since we don’t exactly know all of the reasons for the increase earlier, I don’t know that we can really predict that this means we’ve got a trend here that’s going to continue.”

Average daily new coronavirus case reports in Eastern Idaho Public Health have steadily declined since March 14, when the seven-day case average peaked at 124. In the week ending April 5, an average of 85 new virus cases were reported each day. By Monday night, that average daily rate dropped to 63.

While hospitalizations also declined, death reports jumped slightly last week after no deaths were reported during the first week of April. Still, weekly death totals are far under rates in November and December, where more than a dozen eastern Idahoans were dying of COVID-19 each week. At least 239 eastern Idahoans have died from COVID-19 so far, according to the health district.

Dr. Jared Morton, who directs the hospitalist program at Idaho Falls Community Hospital, called the lull in new cases and hospitalizations a “fresh of breath air.” But, he cautioned, “how long that breath lasts, who knows.”

Dr. Richard Nathan, an Idaho Falls infectious disease specialist, agreed. Nathan said in a Monday phone interview that the 10-bed ICU at Community Hospital had only six patients. He called it “the least in months.” Just four of the patients had COVID-19, Nathan said.

“I think things are in a better place at the moment, but it could change very rapidly,” Nathan said.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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