Community Hospital COVID-19 (copy)

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced Sept. 7, 2021, that it declared Crisis Standards of Care in North Idaho. In this Dec. 7, 2020, file photo, staff talk about a patient being treated in the intensive care unit for COVID-19 at Idaho Falls Community Hospital.

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In north Idaho, patients should expect longer wait times and care in makeshift rooms as hospitals, which are stretched thin treating hordes of COVID-19 patients, struggle to provide routine levels of care.

And the rest of the state is not far from declaring a formal resource crisis, one top official said.

“The best method we have to prevent Crisis Standards of Care in the rest of the state and get out of Crisis Standards of Care in north Idaho is the individual actions of the people of Idaho,” state health department Director Dave Jeppesen said.

Idaho Public Health Administrator Elke-Shaw Tulloch said people in Idaho should “be careful and avoid” activities that could result in them needing the emergency room, avoid using the ER for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing, get vaccinated against COVID-19, and wear a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces.

“If you need care, please seek it, but do your best to avoid going into the emergency room,” Shaw-Tulloch. She said people can call 211 to get a free, at-home COVID-19 test.

The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Idaho, both in regular hospital beds and intensive care unit beds, recently reached new highs. There were 548 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 173 ICU admissions due to the virus on Aug. 31, state data show.

The vast majority of people who contract COVID-19, get hospitalized with the disease or die from it are unvaccinated, officials say. A graphic released Tuesday by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare shows that between May 15 and Sept. 4, 90% of cases, 91.6% of hospitalizations and 88.7% of deaths were among people who were not fully vaccinated against the virus.

At Kootenai Health in north Idaho, which requested Crisis Standards of Care on Labor Day, patients are experiencing longer waits before they get access to the intensive care unit, and some are being treated in a conference center converted to house patients, said Dr. Robert Scoggins, the hospital’s chief of staff. The hospital’s third floor is entirely dedicated for COVID-19 patients, he said. He said the hospital is also seeing “significantly more younger patients with” the delta variant.

A group of hospital disaster planners that recommended the state’s two northernmost health districts enter crisis standards also discussed but did not support a statewide declaration, Jeppesen said.

“Ultimately, the reason that the committee recommended and I agreed and decided for just north Idaho, is in talking to those health care entities throughout the rest of the state — they are not quite there for Crisis Standards of Care. Really, really close, but not quite there,” Jeppesen said.

Asked how long Crisis Standards of Care will continue, Jeppesen said state officials will monitor the situation daily in north Idaho and “make decisions that are appropriate for the situation on the ground.” Scoggins said Kootenai Health is also monitoring the situation closely, but he expects hospitalizations will not decline immediately because of the rate of coronavirus tests that return positive.

More than 800,000 Idahoans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. Only 58% of Idaho adults have received at least one dose, compared to 75% of American adults. Idaho has the fourth-lowest adult partial vaccination rate in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

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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