As COVID-19 fills ICUs, Little deploys National Guard again

Sgt. Eli Morgan and other Idaho National Guard members assisted employees from the Idaho Foodbank and volunteers from Idaho’s Dairy West at the Boise Centre to build food boxes for Idaho students in need on April 8, 2020. The call for the Idaho National Guard came through the Idaho Office of Emergency Management from the Idaho Foodbank to help with a shortage of support during the pandemic. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Becky Vanshur)

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

In a last-ditch effort to avoid crisis standards of care, Gov. Brad Little announced Tuesday he is mobilizing Idaho National Guard members to support health care facilities across the state. 

In a press release Tuesday morning, Little said they have not yet implemented crisis standards of care, but statewide, hospitals are filled beyond capacity with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

“On a daily call with hospitals this morning, we heard there are only four standard adult ICU beds available in the entire state. Where hospitals have converted other spaces to be used as contingency ICU beds, those are filling up too,” Little said. “We are dangerously close to activating statewide crisis standards of care – a historic step that means Idahoans in need of healthcare could receive a lesser standard of care or may be turned away altogether. In essence, someone would have to decide who can be treated and who cannot. This affects all of us, not just patients with COVID-19.”

The move by Little will deploy up to 150 Guard members and 200 additional medical and administrative personnel, available through a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration. Guard members will help with logistical support, such as screenings and lab work, for stressed healthcare facilities. Additionally, a 20-person Department of Defense medical response team will be deployed to North Idaho.

In Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai Health reported having 97 COVID-19 patients on Tuesday, 35 of whom are in critical care. 

Last week, Kootenai Health told Idaho Reports the hospital is on the cusp of asking the state to declare crisis standards of care for their region, and has converted a classroom to a patient care area. 

In southern Idaho, St. Luke’s Health System reported Monday having 182 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19. Thirty one percent of hospitalized St. Luke’s patients are COVID positive.

Saint Alphonsus Health System reported Monday having 93 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19. Twenty one percent of hospitalized Saint Al’s patients are COVID positive. 

Statewide, the test positivity rate has climbed to 13.2%, well above the goal of keeping the rate below 5%. Providers such as Primary Health and Saint Alphonsus have reported positivity rates of more than 20% in recent days. 

The vast majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated. 

Since the pandemic reached Idaho, 2,331 people in the state have died of COVID-19-related causes, according to Health and Welfare.

As of Monday, only 54.2% of Idahoans age 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. There is no vaccine approved yet for children younger than 12.

For information on where to get a free COVID-19 vaccination, visit vaccines.gov or coronavirus.idaho.gov.

Read the full press release below.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 31, 2021

Gov. Little activates National Guard again, directs hundreds of new medical personnel to help Idaho hospitals overwhelmed with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients

Boise, Idaho – Governor Brad Little announced today a last-ditch effort to avoid the first-ever activation of statewide crisis standards of care by adding hundreds of new medical personnel for Idaho hospitals, but he said the real solution to the crisis is more Idahoans choosing to receive the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

Nearly all Idaho hospitals are overwhelmed with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. There are more Idahoans in Intensive Care Units (ICU) with COVID-19 than ever before. The vast majority of them are unvaccinated.

“On a daily call with hospitals this morning, we heard there are only FOUR standard adult ICU beds available in the entire state. Where hospitals have converted other spaces to be used as contingency ICU beds, those are filling up too,” Governor Little said. “We are dangerously close to activating statewide crisis standards of care – a historic step that means Idahoans in need of healthcare could receive a lesser standard of care or may be turned away altogether. In essence, someone would have to decide who can be treated and who cannot. This affects all of us, not just patients with COVID-19.”

Governor Little is adding up to 370 additional personnel to assist hospitals with the surge.

·        By mobilizing the Idaho National Guard again, up to 150 guardsmen will support short-staffed medical facilities. They will be tasked with logistical support such as screenings, lab work, and other duties.

·        In addition, 200 additional medical and administrative personnel will be available to Idaho through a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration.

·        A 20-person Department of Defense medical response team will be deployed to North Idaho, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the state and where they are experiencing the greatest need.

Idaho hospitals are beyond constrained. Our healthcare system is designed to deal with the everyday realities of life. Our healthcare system is NOT designed to withstand the prolonged strain caused by a global pandemic. It is simply not sustainable. Please choose to receive the vaccine now to support your fellow Idahoans who need you,” Governor Little said.

Governor Little highlighted other recent steps he has taken to alleviate the crisis. Last week, he announced the opening of three monoclonal antibody treatment centers across the state, where Idahoans at greatest risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 will be able to receive therapeutic medications to hopefully avoid hospitalization and help preserve critical capacity in our hospitals.

He also directed new funds to help Idaho hospitals attract and retain the medical staff they need as they compete with healthcare systems across the nation for workers.

In addition, Governor Little’s administration announced this month that temporary licensing fees are waived again for retired or inactive nurses so they can activate their licenses and reenter the workforce more easily during this unprecedented time. This same step last year cleared the way for more than 1,000 nurses and other health professionals to help out.

“I hope it will be enough for us to avoid statewide crisis standards of care, but we are teetering on the brink and there is only one real solution – we need more Idahoans to choose to receive the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine now,” Governor Little said.

Some Idaho schools have already been forced to transition to remote learning because of COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and families. Addressing the Idahoans who are still on the fence or are just putting off receiving the vaccine, Governor Little said the time to get vaccinated is now, so our kids can have a normal school year.

“I want to thank the more than 818,000 Idahoans who have shown love for their neighbor by choosing to receive the safe and effective vaccine. To the others, please choose to receive the vaccine now to protect lives, help our exhausted medical staff, keep healthcare access available to all of us, keep our workforce healthy, and keep our kids in school,” Governor Little said.

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