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All hands on deck in Blaine County as COVID-19 takes heavy toll

"Almost all we're doing is taking care of potentially sick people," Ketchum's fire chief said.

KETCHUM, Idaho — Blaine County is still considered Idaho's hot spot for coronavirus, which is now infecting nearly one out of every 100 people there.

With that many people getting sick, resources in the small city of Ketchum are being stretched thin.

"We've had a number of them that have either come down sick or are quarantined or had to isolate because of family members. So it's been a process to just juggle the staffing," Ketchum Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin said. "Almost all we're doing is taking care of potentially sick people."

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With limited staffing, McLaughlin has had to bring in more people to drive ambulances.

"It was better for us to try to get some people in who would not be in the back of the ambulance at all, but just drive, to take care of that side of things. And that just took one thing off our plate. We could focus more on good care to the people of our community," McLaughlin said. "There's just been a lot of people in the community who've stepped up and found a way to help to take some of the load off the first responders,

"All of the ski patrollers from the Sun Valley Resort who are not working there basically came together and became our back country rescue team in case we have a call for that. So that really took a lot of weight off our shoulders."

The City of Ketchum has also had to borrow ambulances to keep up with the demand.

"We also have a private ambulance that's from Ada County that's down here more or less on permanent loan. They've been helping out on a daily basis, especially with those transports," McLaughlin said.

"We're also having to move patients out of Wood River hospital to other hospitals," he said. "Each time we do that, that's the better part of the day for our crew to get them loaded up, moved and back, decontaminate the ambulance and get back into service. So it's been very time consuming."

McLaughlin said the St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center in Ketchum has limited staffing for critical care. The hospital has stopped some services because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and some staff are quarantined or ill.

"Pretty much any patient that takes a turn for the worse has to get moved to where they have an operating ICU," McLaughlin said.

One good thing happening for first responders in Blaine County: the community has their back.

"Oh, it's great. It's great," McLaughlin said.

People in the Wood River Valley are loving their first responders so much that -- at 8:00 p.m. each night, residents are stepping outside and howling.

They're calling it, "Howling for Health Care."

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At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.