Wednesday, November 25, 2020
St. Luke’s Cries for Help as COVID Patients Hit a Record
St. Luke's air ambulance at Twin Falls Magic Valley is running out of places to transfer patients as hospitals in Idaho and Utah fill up with COVID patients.
Friday, October 23, 2020


This is not a good time to have a heart attack, let alone a case of coronavirus.

St. Luke’s Magic Valley hit a new record of 50 COVID-19 patients on Thursday with COVID patients counting for a third of the hospital’s patient population as the hospital strained to provide the care being asked of it.

And officials of Kootenai hospital in Coeur d’Alene announced Wednesday that they, too, are 99 percent full and may have to start sending patients to Seattle and Portland.

Meanwhile, Blaine County remained in critical risk category of its risk assessment plan for the second week in a row as Idaho continued to surge through its largest coronavirus spike since the pandemic began.

On Thursday Idaho tallied another 950 new cases of COVID for a total of 56,600 cases since mid-March with Ada County reporting 250 cases. The state has recorded just under 2,000 cases in two days, along with seven new deaths for a total 553.

Blaine County added just four new cases of coronavirus on Thursday for a total of 844 after a high of 18 just a couple days earlier.

Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s Magic Valley, Jerome and Wood River, told reporters at a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon that the hospital in Twin Falls has become overwhelmed.

The Twin Falls hospital has cancelled elective surgeries that require hospitalization, and that includes cardiovascular cases when someone might need a pacemaker.

The hospital just recorded two more deaths and many of its staff are sick with COVID. What is transpiring is “shocking,” Kern said.

“More alarming is that we’re setting records for the most positive cases we’ve had in the past few days,” he added.

St. Luke’s Magic Valley has transferred some patients to Boise, Kern said. But hospitals in Boise, Pocatello, Eastern Idaho, Salt Lake and Northern Utah are full, as well.

"There's virtually nowhere to send them at this point," said Kern, warning that Idahoans should expect more hospitalizations as the number of COVID cases remain high. "There's not really a cavalry to come. We're it."

Six of the eight counties under the South Central Public Health District umbrella are now in the critical risk level, meaning they have considerable community transmission of COVID. Some of the COVID cases have been traced to an Oktoberfest celebration held in downtown Twin Falls.

Camas County is doing only slightly better, as it is in the high-risk level.

Blaine County recently elected to use a risk assessment using Harvard Global Health institute’s tougher  standards. But it remained in the critical risk level when the latest risk assessment was unveiled Thursday.

Clif Bar's General Manager Dale Ducommun said during Thursday's press conference that the Twin Falls bakery has lost $200,000 due to COVID. About 20 employees have been out each day during October due to the disease. All contracted the disease in the community, he added.

“I’m making a plea. Help us do your part. Wear a mask, wash your hands, keep your distance, and avoid crowded places,” said Melody Bowyer, SCPHD director. “We cannot do this without your help.”

Some counties in southcentral Idaho have a test positivity exceeding 20 percent, meaning one in every five persons tested for COVID is positive. Health officials say that the goal is to be under 5 percent.

Blaine County had a positive rate of 11.6 percent from Oct. 11 to 17. Its average new cases per 100,000 residents is 33.5, which is in the critical risk tier of the Harvard Global risk assessment.

The county has had two outbreaks in long-term care facilities and small clusters attributed to small gatherings and work places.

During the week ending Oct. 17, sixteen people ages 18-29 tested positive; 10 between 60 and 69; seven between 50-59 and seven in the 70 and older category. Five people ages 40-49 tested positive; two between the ages of 30-39 and three from infancy to 13 years of age.

As of Wednesday, St. Luke’s Wood River didn’t have any patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The hospital is at 36 percent capacity and staffing is good. But with St. Luke’s Magic Valley maxed out, it’s not a given that local patients can be transferred to that hospital should they have a heart attack or some other emergency.

South Central Public Health District board members on Wednesday rejected Magic Valley doctors’ call to mandate masks to slow the spread of the virus. But they did pass a motion to encourage Gov. Brad Little to issue a statewide mask mandate. They also passed a motion to limit the number of people in public gatherings.

Hailey last week tightened regulations mandating mask and limiting public gatherings to 10 indoors and 50 outdoors, with some exceptions such as schools and grocery stores.

The Ketchum City Council followed suit on Monday, passing a new health order that requires face coverings and limiting the size of gatherings. It does not, however, require children as young as 2 to wear masks, as does the Hailey order. Those who violate the order risk a $100 fine.

City Administrator Jade Riley said much of the push is to remind businesses and restaurants to put out signage regarding COVID precautions and remind them to review plans, remembering what worked to stop the spread early in the pandemic.

“Most of the spread has been in Hailey and Bellevue, but a lot of those people work in Ketchum,” he added.

Blaine County Commissioners followed suit, although with a curious provision requiring those who cannot wear a cloth face covering because they are hearing impaired to wear a face shield, as if it might help if they could read their own lips and facial expressions.

The seven-day moving average of COVIDl-19 cases has been at 700 or more cases for three consecutive days, including a record 781.9 as of Wednesday. That’s an unprecedented level, according to The Idaho Statesman.

The Blaine Recovery Group formed at the onset of the pandemic issued a statement noting summer business for businesses in the Wood River Valley exceeded expectations, considering signature events had been cancelled. But it warned that a resurgence of the virus at the local level will keep guests and visitors away and prompt locals to retreat to their homes, limiting economic activity.

“The good news is that we have proven we know how to mitigate the risk,” the group said.

The group noted that The Insights Collective, a pandemic economy think tank composed of tourism industry experts, says that 70% of those surveyed indicated health and safety measures being implemented by a destination were the kind of information that would increase the likelihood of travel to a destination.

“The data is pretty clear that potential visitors are very interested in health and safety issues,” they added. “Blaine County has demonstrated that we can offer health, safety and a valuable guest experience and we can leverage that for our local businesses.”





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