Idaho Reaches Critical Levels of COVID Patients

Original story posted on: October 26, 2020

Newly released data reveals that positivity rate for Idaho is now at 23.22, putting the Gem state in the top three of the nation.

The impact of the coronavirus on rural hospitals and regional medical centers in Idaho reached critical levels Friday, resulting in the diverting of patients.

All Idaho hospitals are reporting critical levels of patients, with care teams exhausted, more staff infected, limited frontline workers, and families of care teams with continuing exposure – and quarantines from the massive community spread.

The average daily new case rates at 800 in a population of 2 million, ranks Idaho seventh in the nation.

It’s reflective of a national trend, as the U.S. recorded more than 80,000 new cases on Friday – the most ever on one day.  

Each public health district (PHD) in Idaho is setting its own level of risk, along with mask mandates. (Note: members of the PHDs are appointed by county commissioners, with no medical experience required.)

Each school district is also setting its own level of risk, including mask mandates. Teachers in the largest school district, in the Boise area, held a “sick day” to protest lack of protection for teachers, staff, and students. Each district is deciding on in-room, remote, or hybrid teaching, based on their individual criteria.

Compliance is voluntary, with no enforcement penalties for violations of recommended use of masks and social distancing in groups. Gov. Brad Little has left it to the local health districts and school districts to make these tough decisions, which sometimes come with blowback from the community.

Effective Oct. 23, St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, a 200-bed hospital in Twin Falls, Idaho, is temporarily no longer accepting new pediatric patients. They will be diverted to St Luke’s Children’s Hospital in Boise: a two-hour drive for parents to be with their child, plus the additional costs. Additionally, they are delaying elective surgeries that may require overnight stays. One-third of all cases at the hospital are now COVID-related.

Providers in Northern Idaho reported to the PHD that they are at 99 percent capacity and will be forced to divert to Washington or Oregon hospitals. The PHD had implemented a mask mandate there, but even after hearing pleas by the hospital and physicians, it voted to repeal the mandate. Board comments included “no one is wearing one anyway” and “something is making these patients sick, but I am pretty sure it is not coronavirus” – even after a healthcare professional presented their case.

Rural Idaho hospitals report that they are full and diverting patients, but they refer to the larger referral centers, which are now rejecting patients, or asking the small rural hospitals to hold the patients, while they try to find a bed. Referral centers can be up to an hour’s drive away from their local family and community support. If a patient is not accepted, the rural hospital keeps looking; frequently they are sent up to two hours away. The wait can be hours to find an accepting hospital of at-risk patients.

Boise, Idaho’s state capital’s PHD, asked skilled nursing facilities and assisted living centers to evaluate a way to begin to allow visitors. Some care centers that have been able to keep COVID-19 out are now wondering how they can continue to do so, with the recent explosion of cases.

Programming Note: Listen to Day Egusquiza report this story live from Idaho today during Monitor Mondays, 10 a.m. EST.

Day Egusquiza

Day Egusquiza is a nationally recognized speaker on continuous quality improvement (CQI), benchmarking, redesigning, reimbursement systems and implementing an operational focus of compliance both in hospitals and practices.  She is the president of AR Systems, Inc. and resides in Twin Falls, Idaho.

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