Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Doctor Describes Ordeal as ‘A Whisper That Turned into a Scream’
Authorities cautioned Sun Valley residents that emergency services might not be available as the state's number of coronavirus cases climbed to 92.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020


A sign went up on the outskirts of Ketchum Tuesday morning, warning motorists that the town they were entering was under quarantine and that non-essential travel was prohibited.

On the other side of the highway a sign warned backcountry skiers headed out of town that they should be prepared to self-rescue.

Blaine County is clamping down not just in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus but to conserve resources with a hospital and emergency medical services that is nearing capacity and reeling from too many cases of health care providers who have tested positive or are self-quarantining.

Brent Russell, an emergency doctor at St. Luke’s Wood River, shared his experience with various newspapers around the state as he tried to make Idahoans understand the severity of the disease that is now affecting 40 Blaine County residents.

“My illness began as a whisper that slowly turned into a scream. A runny nose morphed into cough raking a throat that felt burnt. My chest and back ached with each breath, the lining of my lungs teeming with replicating sickness. Worst of all was the fevers, bone rattling shakes and a bed soaked in sweat that awakened me in the middle of the night, the suffocating feeling sparking a most uncomfortable fear.”

Russell, who is on the mend, said he didn’t know how he got coronavirus—perhaps, from a patient in the emergency room or, perhaps, from a stranger on the chairlift. But, he said, he does know how to squelch it.

“Assume everyone has it and every surface in the public sphere is coated with the virus. Behave accordingly,” he said, noting that someone with coronavirus infects an average of two to 2.5 people. “Do not let your children play with groups of friends because ‘it’s no big deal if the kids get it.’ Maybe, but it’s a big deal when grandpa gets it. And the house parties can wait a few months. Now is the time to be overly cautious. We can relax later.”

Russell has displayed his machismo as Doc Roc at MASSV and other music events throughout the valley. But he has reason to fear the coronavirus. While he may be immune to it now, hundreds of thousands of Idahoans are not.

And hospitals across the state don’t have enough capacity to handle even a moderate outbreak in which 5 percent of those with the virus might become critically ill.

Harvard Global Health Institute predicts between 11,016 and 33,049 Idahoans will need ICU care at some point due to COVID-19. That means 14 patients could need a bed in intensive care for every bed that exists.

That’s why doctors like Russell say it’s so important to slow the spread so Idaho’s hospitals are not overwhelmed all at once.

Idaho has 555 intensive care unit beds statewide. But more than a hundred of them are for children and babies. And not all can be reserved for COVID-19. Heart attacks won’t wait for the pandemic to be over. Nor will car accidents.

At the same time, the state has 404 ventilators, according to the Idaho Hospital Association. But it’s  predicted up to 16,000 Idahoans could need a ventilator at some point.

St. Luke’s Wood River has one ventilator and two intensive care beds. It has been forced to transfer patients needing ventilators elsewhere. It has 25 beds for 21,994 residents—3,804, or 17.3 percent of which are over the age of 65. That’s 0.007 beds per resident over 65.

As of 2018, Boise had 1,770 total hospital beds—52 percent of which were occupied. That would have  left 850 open, including 190 in intensive care units, says ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom.

Boise has a population of 950,000 residents—14 percent over age 65. If 40 percent of the adult population contracts the disease over 12 months, Boise would not have enough beds.

In that scenario, Boise hospitals would receive 58,400 coronavirus patients, which would require 1,950 beds over 12 months. That’s 2.3 times the available bed. The scenarios assume each patient would require 12 days of hospital care based on data from China.

As of Tuesday, 1.5 billion around the world have been told to stay home. That includes Blaine County where residents were told to shelter in place beginning Saturday, March 21, after community spread was found.

But Idaho Gov. Brad Little has resisted imposing a stay-in-place order across the state, even though piecemeal efforts did no good in states like Italy where doctors are collapsing from the exhaustion of 36-hour work shifts and in Spain where a Madrid ice rink has been converted to a morgue as the number of virus victims climbs.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow chastised Little for his lackluster response before a nationwide audience this week. And the Idaho Statesman editorialized that his response is “inadequate, dangerous and likely will cost some of his constituents their lives.”

With just a few confirmed cases and seemingly low spread a week ago, Idaho had a golden opportunity to flatten the curve and be a model for other states about how to handle the outbreak. But he has done nothing but push the deadline to file taxes back, the newspaper fumed.

Having Blaine County shut down while everyone around it does business as usual defeats the purpose of a shutdown, the newspaper noted.

Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw said Tuesday afternoon that he thinks that the majority of the community is complying with the stay-at-home decree, which forbids even social visits at friends’ homes. But, he added, it’s hard to tell what effect it’s having on the transmission of the virus because there’s not adequate testing and there’s not enough data.

Even the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare seems to be having a tough time keeping up. On Monday it posted that Idaho had 50 confirmed cases when the state actually had 77, according to the reports filed by local health districts.

The state now has 92 cases, and Boise now has community spread meaning at least one individual does not know where he got the virus.

Blaine County gained four new cases on Tuesday, leaving it with 40 confirmed cases.

The City of Ketchum approved an Emergency Declaration and Ordinance Monday night giving the mayor and city council such powers as isolating infected persons from others, suspending lodging accommodations and restricting travel or visitation in the community.

“If we can identify and quarantine individuals that have COVID-19, it is our belief we can stem this fast-moving, ever-evolving pandemic in our community,” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw said that the state responded to a request he and Sun Valley Mayor Peter Hendricks sent asking for increased testing, given the unprecedented community spread of COVID-19 in Blaine County. The state secured backup ambulances to transport people to other hospitals and more testing support.

But he noted that the city council fielded comments Monday night that the Ketchum Post Office was not doing enough to enforce social distancing between those waiting in line to mail or pick up packages, nor did it have hand sanitizers.

“We’re reaching out to ensure their compliance. There’s more the post office can do,” he said.

Retired ski instructor Charlie Webster, who was among the first to exhort Sun Valley Resort and others to shut down to keep visitors out of the valley, sent an email to Ketchum’s mayor and city council members this week, taking on the post office.

He complained that he had received “two yellow death tickets” in the mail, referring to notices that he had packages to pick. And he urged city leaders to institute home delivery since it appears that a lockdown could be months away.

“Being required to use the lobby is reckless in the extreme,” he wrote. “Begin home delivery in Ketchum right now, before anyone else is exposed, as many certainly have been. Those who do not want home delivery should be able to get all packages from lockers.”

One Eye on Sun Valley reader worried that valley residents might be too cavalier when it comes to shopping for groceries.

 “I feel we are behaving in this valley, except at the grocery store,” she wrote. “We should suggest the Italian way: Line up six feet apart, the distances marked with lines on the sidewalk. Only allow 10 in the store at a time, maybe 20. But bottom line…distance. And distribute gloves at the entrance.”


A promising pilot study in Italy tested all 3,000 residents of Vo near Venice, including those who did not have symptoms. Able to quarantine people before they showed signs of infection, the town was able to eradicate coronavirus in under 14 days.

At the time the first symptomatic case was diagnosed, 3 percent of the population had been infected but most were asymptomatic.


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