Gem State COVID hospitalizations continue to climb

N. Idaho hospitals remain under crisis operations

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

Hospitalizations caused by the novel coronavirus have been steadily on the rise in Idaho since mid-summer, and they don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

According to data gathered by the Idaho Capital Sun, fewer than 80 adults were hospitalized with the virus during the first week of July 2021. As of mid-September, that number sits closer to 680.

These figures are surpassing the last hospitalization peak in December 2020, when fewer than 500 people needed hospital beds as they battled COVID-19. State health officials shared Sept. 14 that the most recent peak — fueled largely by the ultra-contagious Delta variant — is far from declining.

“The flow of sick people in hospitals continues to increase,” Idaho Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch told the Idaho Capital Sun. “It’s incredibly high, and the stress on the hospitals is very real.”

That stress prompted North Idaho hospitals, including those in Bonner and Boundary counties, to enact crisis standards of care on Sept. 7, meaning that health care officials are administering limited resources to those with the most dire needs, and postponing procedures and care that might, under normal circumstances, be made priority. 

What’s more, getting patients transferred who might need more specialized or critical care is becoming close to impossible.

“A car accident resulting in a trauma surgeon, a stroke requiring a neurosurgeon or a heart attack in need of cardiac intervention could be patients sitting and waiting in the Emergency Department for a specialist or bed to become available,” Bonner General Health spokesperson Erin Binnall told the Reader, illustrating the kinds of the urgent needs that may be delayed under current strains caused by the virus.

North Idaho has relied on hospitals across the border in Washington throughout the pandemic, prompting a story Sept. 13 in The New York Times exploring the ways that Idaho’s low COVID-19 vaccination rate — 40% of adults, among the country’s lowest — has allowed the virus to create a stronghold in the anti-mask, anti-vaccine population, and therefore led to a strain on resources for hospitals around the region.

Cassie Sauer, president of the Washington State Hospital Association, told The Times that North Idaho’s ever-increasing reliance on Washington hospitals is “ridiculous.”

“If you have your health care system melting down, the idea that you would not immediately issue a mask mandate is just bizarre,” she continued. “They need to be doing everything they can possibly do.”

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, while promoting the vaccine and other CDC-recommended guidelines, has not mandated masks or shots. He announced Sept. 10 that the state would be exploring legal action against President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 plan, which would mandate vaccines for certain workers, both in the public and private sectors. Still, Little concluded his media release by encouraging his constituents to take steps against the virus.

“I still urge Idahoans to choose to receive the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and other ways to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 so our kids can stay in school and for the continued health and prosperity of the people of Idaho,” he said.

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