Kootenai Health: Hospital capacity at 99% due to ‘surge’ in COVID-19 cases

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Statewide cases of COVID-19, the illness resulting from the novel coronavirus, have continued to exceed previous levels of positivity since the global pandemic began in earnest in mid-spring 2020, with 987 confirmed and probable cases reported on Oct. 21 alone. That brings the Idaho total, since reporting began in mid-March, to 55,650 cases — 546 of which have resulted in death for Gem State residents. 

The surge in North Idaho cases has led to Kootenai Health, in Coeur d’Alene, announcing that it is now at 99% capacity — a worst-case scenario feared by public health officials since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020.

“We are definitely in a surge, we are definitely exceeding where we were prior,” Don Duffy, Public Health Services administrator for the Panhandle Health District, told members of the Sandpoint City Council at their Oct. 21 meeting. “It certainly is taxing the resources that we have.”

In Bonner County — part of the five-county Panhandle Health District — the numbers of new cases are also rising, representing a spike in hospitalizations since early October, approaching the high of 41 reported in late July. As of Oct. 19, PHD reported 34 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Bonner County. That comes not long after the county experienced its first two deaths from the virus, which health officials recorded Oct. 14 — a man and woman, both in their 80s.

PHD officials reported a historically high number of cases district-wide Oct. 20, logging 141. On Oct. 21, they added another 71 to the toal. A total of 73 people have died of COVID-19 or COVID-19 related causes in the district since tracking began, with the vast majority in Kootenai County — the populous area remaining among the infection hotspots statewide. 

Kootenai Health, the hospital in Coeur d’Alene to which many regional COVID-19 patients are sent for critical care, sounded a dire alarm Oct. 21, stating on its website, “The Inland Northwest is at a critical moment in the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“As of 8 a.m. on October 21, Kootenai Health has 31 COVID-19 inpatients and 11 of these patients require critical care. The overall hospital census for all patients requiring medical or surgical care is 99 percent full. Spokane hospitals are also full and many cannot accept more patients,” the health care provider stated. “Because all regional hospitals are experiencing the same situation, there will be limited opportunities to transfer patients to other facilities once at capacity. If there is no room available, Kootenai Health is currently looking at hospitals in Seattle or Portland to find space to transfer patients, but it is very limited.”

“Spokane hospitals are also full, and cannot accept more patients,” Duffy told Sandpoint Council members.

Of course, lack of hospital capacity was among the earliest and most critical concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as public health officials from the local to federal level encouraged precautionary measures such as self isolation, the wearing of face coverings and frequent hand washing to help “flatten the curve” of upward infection rates.

That effort has failed in Idaho, amid widespread political opposition to so-called mask “mandates,” including a walk-out by a handful of Sandpoint Middle School students Oct. 16, which was supported by the Emmett-based People’s Rights organization fronted by Oregon anti-government transplant Ammon Bundy, who was arrested twice during the special session of the Idaho Legislature for agitating against COVID-19 related state policies. Idaho remains among the top states in the nation for increased positive COVID-19 cases.

According to Duffy, Bonner and Benewah counties remain in the “yellow” category of infection — a relatively good situation, considering infection rates in other regional counties. Shoshone County is at “orange,” while Boundary and Kootenai counties are at “red.” The rate of infection district-wide is 30.7 per 100,000, placing PHD as a whole in the “red” category. Duffy said a total of 12 individuals — including staff and students — have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Lake Pend Oreille School District.

“The cases have increased dramatically,” he said.

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