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St. Luke’s Fights Staff Shortages as Government Rolls Out Free COVID Tests
Wednesday, January 19, 2022


It’s “more probable than not” that Idaho hospitals will see crisis standards of care activated again, St. Luke’s chief physician executive said Monday.

This time one of the main issues is staffing, with staff out sick going up 20-fold over the last three weeks, said Dr. Jim Souza.

“We’re pulling providers right from ambulatory clinics into work as hospitalists,” said Souza. “Our workforce is coming down with COVID or needing to quarantine. This is the newest wrinkle the pandemic has thrown us and could lead to us having to declare crisis standards of care again.”

About 40 percent of those in St. Luke’s ICUs have COVID-19, according to Souza. And the test positivity rate is nearly 40 percent. That’s extremely high, unlike anything we’ve seen,” said Souza.

Other providers around the state say they are seeing test positivity as high as 50 percent—indicative of widespread infection in a community.

St. Luke’s hospitals are at “all-time high busyness,” said Souza. But, while Magic Valley is currently  unable to take additional ICU patients, other hospitals are not yet having to transfer patients to other hospitals, such as Wood River.

“We stand ready to do that if we need to, of course,” said Souza.

The silver lining of the Omicron surge is that there’s less of the unknown, Souza said.

“In the Delta surge we didn’t know how to care for a septic patient in the emergency room waiting room. We had to learn that on the fly. We learned a lot of innovative things during the last surge….We know how to provide care in unique places.”

Souza said many people share the false narrative that they don’t have to worry about the Omicron virus because it’s less virulent and more like a cold and flu.

“But those in ICUs are desperately ill. Some are going to lose their battle. And I promise you: None of them thought they would be the one. And here they are—the one,” he said.

Data out of the United Kingdom indicates that a single shot of vaccine provides 52 percent protection against hospitalization and death. Two shots provide 72 percent protection and a booster, 88 percent protection.

“In addition, we estimate we have more than 50,000 Idahoans with long-haul COVID in Idaho so far. And vaccination reduces the chance of long COVID ten-fold,” Souza added.


The trend of sick callouts matches what’s happening in schools. Several southern Idaho school districts, including Caldwell, Nampa, Horseshoe Bend and McCall, have had to shut down for at least a few days with teachers and bus drivers out sick. The situation is just as dire in North Idaho.

And even in local schools, janitors, librarians and other staff have been leaned on to fill other roles.

In fact, Blaine County Trustees on Tuesday sent out an email asking the community to express their gratitude to staff by noon Wednesday, Jan. 26, at


The White House got its website to order free COVID-19 tests up and running Tuesday at or

And it’s probably the easiest thing to avail oneself of since the COVID pandemic started.

The Biden Administration is expected to start dispensing 400 million free N95 masks offering better protection against Omicron than cloth face coverings next week. They will be available at pharmacies and community health centers.

Each person will be allowed to pick up three masks.


Today St. Luke’s begins administering boosters of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for youth ages 12 through 15 and for moderately or severely immunocompromised 5- to 11-year-olds. Appointments can be made in MyChart at

Those unable to access MyChart may schedule an appointment by calling 208-381-9500.


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