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Viewpoint: Countering Idaho's COVID-19 case surge

Gov. Brad Little discusses his “heartbreaking” visit to St. Luke’s ICU and new measures to help hospitals overwhelmed with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Governor Brad Little recently visited the intensive care unit (ICU) at St. Luke's Medical Center in Boise. He described his experience as "heartbreaking" and recalled seeing intubated patients in critical condition and overwhelmed hospital staff.

Little announced he is adding hundreds of new medical personnel for Idaho hospitals that are being overwhelmed with unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. The governor's office called the move a last-ditch effort to avoid the first-ever activation of statewide crisis standards of care. 

Under crisis standards of care, an Idahoan needing health care could receive a lesser standard of care or may be turned away altogether. The governor said if crisis standards of care are activated, medical professionals would decide who can be treated and who cannot.

He visited the ICU the day before he announced the extra help for hospitals. He talked with Doug Petcash about his ICU visit during the taping of this week's Viewpoint.

Doug Petcash: Would you please describe in detail what you witnessed there?

Gov. Brad Little: Heartbreaking. The patients, they're all intubated. Well, there are a few that are not fully intubated. But particularly the staff, how overwhelmed they are, how much trauma they see, patients dying. It's really heartbreaking when you've got pregnant women and women with small children and spouses who can't be with their loved ones at this time. This is not sustainable at this level to continue.

Doug Petcash: So what did the doctors and nurses tell you about how they're holding up and their morale?

Gov. Brad Little: It's very discouraging, you know that people that are not vaccinated are tying up their health care capacity. You know, we have things happen like a spike in seasonal flu and some of the other things. But where we are in the calendar and what we're seeing in other parts of the state I worry that some of these dedicated nurses, respiratory therapists, fill in the blank, their mental health, their strength, their resilience is going to be really tested. These patients, to turn one of these patients over, which they have to do every day, it takes six people, and you go why does it take six people? Well, they've got all these tubes, multiple tubes you can't let come out. And these patients who have been in that position are not going to have full respiratory capacity even if they do recover, and a lot of them are not going to have full mental capacity. That's the urgency of these critical patients in the ICUs.

The governor announced he is adding up to 370 additional personnel to help hospitals deal with the coronavirus case surge fueled by the more contagious Delta variant. That includes 150 Idaho National Guardsmen to help with screenings, lab work and other duties. 

200 additional medical and administrative personnel will also be available to Idaho through a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration. He also directed new funds to help Idaho hospitals attract and retain the medical staff they need.

The governor also talked about other measures he's taken to fight this COVID case surge, the vaccination rate, masks in schools and money for COVID testing in schools. 

Viewpoint airs every Sunday at 9 a.m. after Meet the Press.

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