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'Things are likely to get worse': COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high in Idaho

St. Luke's Magic Valley has had to divert patients for about 12 hours the past two weekends due to no capacity.

BOISE, Idaho — Hospitals in South Central and Southwest Idaho are not expecting the COVID-19 situation to get better anytime soon.

Idaho is steadily approaching the holiday season, which means dropping temperatures and large family gatherings. These factors are likely to cause a spike in COVID-19 cases, as the state has reported over the past several days.

Because of the increase in cases, St. Luke’s Magic Valley went on full diversion the past two weekends for about 12 hours each time due to capacity issues. The diversion has since ended

The issues were caused by an increasing number of COVID-19 patients paired with staffing illnesses and challenges, according to Dr. Joshua Kern, St. Luke's president of medical affairs. 

“The issue around diversion is happening shift-by-shift,” he said. “It really just depends on how many patients we discharge or admit on a given day and how our staffing is looking.”

While St. Luke's Magic Valley is not currently in a diversion, each day presents the possibility of the hospital becoming overwhelmed with patients and staffing challenges.

“Things continue to be very busy, a lot of patients in the hospital, a lot of COVID patients in the hospital,” Kern said. "Things are likely to get worse and worse and not better."

The hospital had over 50 COVID-19 patients on Monday, which made up about a third of all patients admitted that day. When the hospital reaches capacity, patients are sent over to St. Luke’s in Boise.

“At the end of the day I think waiting too long to take measures, if we’re waiting until we’re at the point the Salt Lake hospitals are at, I think that’s too late,” Kern said.

St. Luke's Boise is currently operating in a somewhat high capacity. They have not yet activated the next level of surge activity, like transforming additional units into COVID-19 intensive care units.

They are still providing elective surgeries, but St. Luke's Magic Valley has canceled all elective surgeries that require an overnight stay.

“The reality is we need everybody to step up and buckle down again on maintaining physical distancing,” Kern said.

Saint Alphonsus is in a similar situation to St. Luke's Boise: busy but managing.

“We are definitely getting close to our peak patient population number which last occurred at the end of July,” Saint Alphonsus Safety Officer Katy Quinn said. “It’s very concerning what our trends are showing.”

COVID-19 patients are using 16% of inpatient beds in the Saint Alphonsus system. The hospital system hasn't canceled or postponed elective surgeries and isn't diverting patients away.

They are asking the public to do things like wear a mask, physically distance, and wash hands to keep hospitalizations down.

“All the metrics that we evaluate, from test positivity to active county case rate, just indicate that we will continue to see an increase in COVID patients over the next several weeks and next couple months,” Quinn said.

While the capacity is busy, the hospital system is trying to manage the increasing COVID-19 patient population as well as try to continue as close as possible to normal service for non-COVID-19 patients.

One Treasure Valley hospital that is struggling is the Boise VA. A spokesperson told KTVB they are 100% full as of Monday evening and are not accepting new patients.

While the hospital has 10 COVID-19 patients, 60 workers are out because they either tested positive or are quarantining after potentially being exposed.

At this time, Idaho is not near crisis standards of care. This requires all hospitals in the state to be out of space and would also take a declaration from the Governor.

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