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Doctors Urge Vaccinations as Hospitals Fill
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Tuesday, July 27, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Idaho’s top health officials are pleading with Idahoans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, what with hospitals nearly full.

“Yesterday in our part of the state 90 of 99 intensive care beds are occupied. That should make everyone go, ‘Wow!’"Dr. Jim Souza told reporters at a virtual press conference.

Souza, chief physician executive for St. Luke’s Health System, said the number of COVID-19 patients at St. Luke’s hospitals and in intensive care has doubled in the past few weeks. The test positivity rate has also doubled.

Just over 40 percent of Idaho’s population, or 687,820 residents, have gotten vaccinated against the virus that has killed 2,183 Idahoans and left many with long-term health problems.

Hospitals were pushed to capacity in November and December of 2020 when COVID patients represented half of hospital admissions. Presently the bulk of hospital admissions represent patients who are being treated for complications from heart, kidney and lung disease—patients who are staying longer in the hospital because they put off treatment during COVID, said Dr. Steven Nemerson, chief clinical officer of Saint Alphonsus Health System.

As masks come off and social distancing ends, hospitals are also seeing more patients admitted for respiratory illnesses like pneumonia. But COVID admissions have doubled from 5 percent to 10 percent in St. Luke’s hospitals and are projected to keep increasing because of a surge of cases fueled by the Delta variant, which is believed to be a thousand times more contagious than the original coronavirus.

If that happens, it could hamper Idaho hospitals’ ability to care for their patients.

“That is the straw that is straining the back of our care capacity. It has the potential to become an entire bale of hay over just a few weeks, and that would be a major problem,” said Souza.

Since January, 98.9 percent of the new cases have been among the unvaccinated, as have 98.6 hospitalizations and 98.7 percent of the deaths.

The doctors said that vaccination is the best way to put the pandemic behind us because the virus will have no place to go

“The patients that are at risk of losing their lives, it’s because they are not vaccinated,” said Nemerson.

“We’re not seeing hospitalized patients who have received the vaccine…and I mean all the vaccines,” said Souza. “I have three points to make: Get the vaccine. Get the vaccine. Get the vaccine.”

Souza added that none of vaccines were ever billed as 100 percent effective in preventing an infection. Think about vaccines, instead, as body armor, which allows police to take a bullet and live to talk about it.

“Breakthrough infections largely come across like a cold. They don’t need hospitalizations and they certainly don’t need ICUs,” he said.

Sousa said more than 300 million doses have been administered in the United States alone, with the vaccines proving extremely safe and effective in driving down infections and hospitalizations. About 12,000 of 14,000 St. Luke’s employees have been vaccinated and the overwhelming majority of employees support the hospital’s new requirement that employees be vaccinated against COVID.

We know we care for vulnerable people who don’t choose when to see us. And we’re not interested in losing another of our employees to COVID,” he said. “We’re requiring vaccinations because of what we know and what we’re seeing. We’re not seeing COVID in the vaccinated population. We’re seeing it in the unvaccinated. And we know vaccinations are far safer than getting COVID. We know the Delta variant is in our state and it’s more transmissible.”

Primary Health Medical Group, which also is requiring employees to get vaccinated, has had a vaccine requirement for 10 years, consistent with employment laws and has not had problems with it,” said Dr. David Peterman, the clinics’ CEO. The vaccines will help protect the clinics against closing as they had to nine months ago when a third of staff was ill, he said.

“We have a process for exemptions. I have zero concern of not having enough employees because we have a policy that’s been in existence 10 years. It’s is part of our culture that we require our employees to be vaccinated to keep our patients safe and to keep ourselves safe,” he said.

Peterman said his clinics administered 240-plus tests the day before and 14 percent tested positive for COVID. That hasn’t happened since May.

“That’s very concerning. When you have that high of a positivity rate, it’s out of control,” said Peterman.

Positive tests among those ages 12 to 18 have jumped by 30 percent, while positive tests among those between 19 and 40 years of age have doubled.

The disease we’re dealing with today is a different disease. It’s scary. It’s very aggressive and we have to increase the vaccination level in Idaho,” said Peterman. “The virus, as all viruses, is very smart and if it continues to spread it may change again and maybe then not even the vaccines will work.”

If the virus is allowed to run amok, hospitals might again have to scale back elective surgeries and procedures.

“We don’t want this to get completely out of control,” said Nemerson. “We don’t want to return to that environment where we were in a year ago when we were talking about contingencies and, God forbid, restricting the ability to deliver care.”

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