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COVID-related hospitalizations falling in Idaho

St. Luke's chief medical officer says that although the declining case and hospitalization numbers is encouraging, now is not the time to let up.

BOISE, Idaho — The number of new daily COVID-19 cases has fallen from an average high of just under 1,500 in mid-December to just under 600 now in late January. Along with that, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-related illness has dropped substantially. 

According to the state of Idaho, Dec. 1 saw the highest number of people hospitalized at 496, with 105  COVID-19 patients in the ICU. In comparison, 241 people were in the hospital being treated for COVID, with 64 in the ICU, by Jan. 25. 

 St. Luke's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jim Souza says the falling numbers of cases and hospitalizations are encouraging, but warned against relaxing restrictions too soon.

"It means that we're getting ahead and we're starting to win. Now is not the time to let up the pressure," Souza said. "Getting this tiger back in the cage is going to take a lot of energy, and right now when we're starting to be successful is not the time to ease up."

Doug Petcash:  What does the falling number of hospitalizations mean for St. Luke's?

Dr. Souza:  "It's meant that we've had more capacity to provide other care. I want to emphasize that. That's been the focus from the beginning is preserving our health care system's capacity for care, and when things were truly out of control at the beginning of December we and other providers had to scale back on other services that we need to provide to people and patients.  So since we've seen the numbers fall we're able to start bringing back on line some of that elective work, surgeries that need to be done, diagnostic tests that needed to be scheduled. So it's been a breath of fresh air. We need to keep the trend going."

Doug Petcash: Has it been enough of a drop to take the overwhelming strain off of your staff? Are they feeling better? 

Dr. Souza:  "I'm going to answer that question like this, they're still really, really busy. You know, we're working through backlogs of work. The COVID strain is not as high. I will say that our patients that are in the hospital are still very sick. They're still a heavy burden of care. It's just the burden isn't quite as high because the numbers have fallen."

Gov. Brad Little says the state is now receiving 24,000 coronavirus vaccine doses per week. 

Souza said St. Luke's could be giving a lot more vaccinations if the state were getting a bigger supply. He said, right now, St. Luke's is administering about 7,000 doses per week, but could ramp up to 10,000 immediately and go even higher with additional planning.

St. Luke's put on a vaccination clinic on Jan. 23 in the Treasure Valley. Nearly 1,600 people received a dose of the vaccine there, plus 400 more at another clinic in town. Souza says they are planning to have more vaccination clinics, but nothing is firmly scheduled.

People 65 and older are eligible to start getting their shots on Monday, Feb. 1.  

On this Sunday's Viewpoint, Dr. Souza also gives his take on what needs to improve with the vaccine rollout, and on the politics of the pandemic. Viewpoint airs at 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning on KTVB. 

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