Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Idaho Returns to Stage 3 as Hospitals Reach Crisis Levels
The state may not have a mask mandate, but Hailey and other cities in the Wood River Valley do. That prompted members of the Wood River Women’s Foundation to mask up last week for a tour of the Wood River Land Trust’s Colorado Gulch.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020



Idaho will return to Stage 3 of its COVID-19 plan as hospital administrators wonder how they’re going to handle the surge in patients.

“We’ve said over and over this is about flattening the curve, stopping the spread,” Idaho Gov. Brad Little said during a press conference Monday afternoon. “Last week things changed for the worse. Idaho is at a critical juncture. This is unacceptable and we must do more.”

Paul Ries notes that Blaine County did not report any new COVID cases on Monday for the first time since Sept. 27. Are the special health orders issued by Hailey, Ketchum and Blaine County starting to make a difference?

The step back came as a surge in COVID-19 cases has landed Idaho on multiple national TV news shows. COVID-19 has killed more people than the past five flu seasons combined, noted one doctor.

Idaho had two record-breaking days last week where new cases exceeded a thousand. It reported 697 new cases on Monday for a total of 60,041 since the pandemic started. It has gained eight new deaths since Saturday for 580 total.

Blaine County has lost its seventh resident to COVID after a few months without a death.

In Twin Falls one in 24 residents have contracted the virus, according to Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of St. Luke’s Magic Valley. The hospital has had to bring in nurses from Boise, postpone elective surgeries and stop admitting pediatric patients, save for newborns and NICU patients, because a rise in COVID patients has it bulging at the seams.

Idaho scaled back on Monday with just under 700 new cases after two harrowing days last week when the state gained more than a thousand new cases each day.

In Boise, which has been in Stage 3 since June, the VA Medical Center is so full doctors are considering bringing in a mobile unit.  St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital had to shuffle patients around over the weekend as it neared capacity.

Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene is looking at transferring patients to Seattle. But hospitals in neighboring states like Utah and Montana can’t take Idaho patients because they, too, are full.

In fact, administrators of Utah hospitals announced Monday that they have developed guidelines to determine which patients may be admitted to overcrowded intensive care units and which patients will be sent home as Utah records more than a thousand new cases a day.

Kern said health care workers have been taking care of COVID patients for the past several months, but “what we’re seeing now is something other. The surge we’re seeing may not be possible to keep up with.”

“It’s not good for our staff  to decide who lives and dies and not good for the patient,” he added.

An emotional Dr. Andrew Wilper, who is affiliated with the Boise VA, noted that we live in a country where we can choose whether to wear a mask because of the veterans who died to give us that right. Now, he said we must choose to do the right thing to protect veterans.

“We’re in a battle with COVID-19 and we cannot surrender to this virus,” he added.

The step back to Stage 3 means that indoor gatherings will be limited to 50 people and outdoor capacity will be limited to 25 percent, which would allow about 8,000 fans to attend a Boise State football game.  Distancing of six feet will be required for all gatherings, and masks will be required at long-term care facilities. There will be seating-only at bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

It does not mean the economy is on lockdown, nor does it mean that travel in and out of the state is being restricted. It does not mean schools must go completely back to online learning.

Little did not issue a statewide mask mandate, despite being urged to do so by some, including South Central Public Health District trustees. Idaho remains one of about 15 states without a mask mandate, even though Arizona saw COVID cases drop by 75 percent following the implementation of a mask mandate.

Little said the local efforts he’s pushed have not worked as well as they should “because the virus is relentless and some parts of the state have adopted insufficient efforts to protect lives.” Some health district boards and mayors have done the right thing, but there are parts of Idaho where not enough has been done, he added.

“We all know that, if someone locally asks us to do something, compliance is higher than if someone at a higher level asks,” he said, adding that the best defense remains wearing a mask and watching your distance.

But Sen. David Nelson, a member of the state’s Economic Rebound Advisory Committee, said the personal responsibility strategy is not working. The increasing danger of the virus will restrict our freedoms to safely shop and dine out until public officials take necessary steps to keep Idahoans safe, he added.

“Gov. Little has taken a small step in the right direction by moving Idaho back to Stage 3, but he needs to start sprinting in the right direction,” he said. “There are minimal differences between Stages 3 and 4 in Idaho’s Rebound plan because these stages are meant to be used after Idaho has turned the corner and significantly reduced the danger of contracting coronavirus. Idahoans are in more danger than ever. Coronavirus cases are rapidly increasing in every corner of the state and our hospitals are in crisis mode.”

Kern said he keeps hearing the virus is not real and people don’t get sick or die from the virus. In fact, patients in their 30s and 40s are dying from the virus, he said.

“It doesn’t discriminate and it impacts people long term. There’s a lot we don’t know about this virus, and that’s part of this call to arms. The numbers’ we’re seeing are unprecedented…certainly in my lifetime,” he said.

Kern has blamed the surge in part on people being lulled into complacency when kids went back to school.

“It’s like the community said, ‘Oh good, it’s over. We can party again,’ ” he said. “We have businesses closed, locked, because employees have COVID.”

Over the weekend St. Luke’s had to call an emergency meeting because Children’s Hospital was getting close to running out of space, Dr. Kenneth Bramwell told Eye on Sun Valley Monday morning.

“We were able to make some arrangements and move some patients around with the mechanisms that we have in place and ultimately we’re in a much better place 24 hours later,” he said.

On Saturday the hospital was at a yellow level on a scale of green being the lowest and orange and red being the highest.

“That was the first time this calendar year that we hit the yellow phase. We’re fine right now but it’s a little concerning, a little worrisome that it’s still October and we’re having to tackle emergency plans,” he said.

St. Luke’s Children has a few patients with COVID. The rest have pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses, appendicitis, head injuries and dehydration. But the hospital is having to take young patients from Magic Valley and other hospitals to free up space in those hospitals for adults with COVID.

And Bramwell worries influenza and other respiratory viruses are already starting to take their toll-- a month ahead of when they normally start, causing problems in late November or early December.

He said parents with children should help keep them safe and prevent the spread of the virus by having them wear masks, wash hands and limit group exposure.

“Just hang in there,” he said. “And, if you’re in a group, keep it small. We know this is going to continue to spread as people go around their regular lives. We’re just trying to minimize the chances of a super spreader event and maximize efforts to contain it with masks and social distancing.”

Locally, St. Luke’s Wood River had two COVID inpatients as of Monday morning, according to hospital spokesperson Joy Prudek.

“You see how full Magic Valley is, and our numbers have been rising so that’s concerning,” she added.




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