By Ruth Brown and Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
On Tuesday, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials said the state’s crisis standards of care advisory committee will meet later this week, signaling how close Idaho is to a public health crisis in which hospitals are overwhelmed and must ration health care.
Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator for the Idaho Division of Public Health, told reporters that implementing crisis care standards is a real possibility with the current trajectory Idaho is seeing.
Crisis care standards are implemented when hospitals are overwhelmed in emergency situations, and unable to provide standard levels of care for all patients. Under the crisis standards of care, hospitals must ration care due to the inability to treat every patient in need, generally prioritizing patients who are the most in need of emergent care and those who are the most likely to survive. The state has set up a framework to help hospitals make those rationing decisions.
That rationing wouldn’t just affect patients with COVID-19, but everyone seeking care for heart attacks, car accidents, RSV, and other ailments that normally send people to the hospital.
“We have to, as a society, figure out the best way to stop the flow of patients coming into the hospitals because they are so strained,” Shaw-Tulloch said. “Some hospitals are saying they will find themselves in that situation in as soon as two weeks.”
Idaho Reports reported on Monday that IDHW’s projections show the state hitting 30,000 new cases per week by mid-October, as well as 2,500 new hospitalizations a week. Dr. Kathryn Turner, director of the Idaho Division of Public Health, confirmed those projections on Tuesday.
“It looks like it could be a very grim winter for us,” Turner said.
The state’s test positivity rate has continued to climb, and is currently at 12.3%. A higher percentage of hospitalized patients are critically ill and require admission to the intensive care unit. Last winter, Idaho recorded a high of 498 hospitalized patients statewide in one day, on December 1. That same day, 105 people, or about 1 in 5 hospitalized patients, were admitted to intensive care units.
On Friday, 326 patients were hospitalized, with 108, or 1 in 3, admitted to the ICU.
State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said on Tuesday that 65 people were currently on ventilators due to COVID-19, which is more people on a ventilator due to the disease than at any given previous day during past surges.
The previous high was in November and December, when 63 ventilators were in-use for COVID patients.
Health care experts have repeatedly said that the majority of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. According to IDHW, unvaccinated Idahoans are hospitalized at a rate 13 times higher than those who are vaccinated.
Compounding the situation: A shortage of health care workers. Shaw-Tulloch says one hospital in north Idaho currently has 500 open positions, and they’ve seen more health care workers leaving the field due to stress and demand. IDHW does plan to make a request for federal assistance with workers, but there is competition for resources with other states.
IDWH continued to stress the importance of being vaccinated, and said individuals who are immunocompromised are now eligible to get a third dose of the vaccine.
Idahoans do not need to prove that they have an immune condition or are taking immunocompromising medication to get the third dose, Hahn said.
Idaho Reports will continue to follow the fourth surge and its effects on hospitals statewide. For information on where to get vaccinated, visit coronavirus.idaho.gov.