Community Hospital COVID-19

Landon Harris, registered nurse, starts an intravenous drip for a patient with COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at Idaho Falls Community Hospital on Dec. 7, 2020.

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This surge of new COVID-19 cases doesn’t look like last summer’s surge.

It’s worse, officials say.

“We are not just repeating the surge that we saw in the summer of 2020. We’re actually beating that surge, and we are inching more toward the surge we saw last winter,” said Dr. Kathryn Turner, a public health researcher at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

“If current projections continue, we could be reaching those levels in the next few weeks,” she said.

Across the state, Idaho Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch said hospital resources are so strained that the state reactivated a group that makes recommendations on whether hospitals should declare a resource disaster, which would give hospitals legal protection and guidance on how to ration potentially life-saving treatment. That’s the Crisis Standards of Care Activation Committee, which meets this week.

In some hospitals, staffing is so constrained that they say if trends continue, they may need Crisis Standards of Care in “as soon as two weeks,” Shaw-Tulloch said.

“Hospitals are completely stressed and in many cases overwhelmed and seeking assistance from state and federal resources, which puts us in competition with other states experiencing the same emergency,” Shaw-Tulloch said.

Recent projections by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Division of Public Health say that by mid-October, Idaho could peak at 30,000 reported infections weekly. That would amount to almost 4,300 cases each day, which is nearly twice as high as Idaho’s record daily caseload of about 2,300 set in December.

Idaho Reports first reported on the model.

State officials have touted individual actions, such as getting vaccinated and wearing masks in hot spots, as tools that can make a difference in COVID-19 spread.

“The biggest tool that we have … in our toolbox is to increase vaccination rates, and encourage everyone to follow the recommendations around masking,” Shaw-Tulloch said. “Although we know that it’s incredibly challenging, and it seems like when you’re out and about in communities that things are back to normal and there isn’t any concern, that’s not what the data are telling us.”

Infections have ballooned in Idaho recently. At the start of July, Idaho was reporting about 70 cases a day. On Monday, Idaho reported 813 new cases, raising its seven-day average to 625.

On Friday, 108 Idahoans were in intensive care units with COVID-19, which is one-third of state residents in the hospital with the virus, state numbers show. ICU admissions for COVID-19 have risen dramatically this summer, from 22 on July 1 to 108 on Aug. 13.

Idaho’s top public health researcher Dr. Christine Hahn said Idaho has surpassed its peak ventilator use during the pandemic. There are now 65 people on ventilators, she said. The previous record set during the winter surge was 63. There are still more than 500 available ventilators, she 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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