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Viewpoint: Idaho COVID-19 vaccine rollout and hospital capacity

Medical leaders from Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke's discuss the importance of the vaccine and how their hospital staff is handling the high number of COVID-19 cases.

BOISE, Idaho — Major news this past week in the fight against COVID-19 as the first Americans and Idahoans outside of clinical trials started receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Many people are calling it the beginning of the end of the pandemic and the light at the end of the tunnel.

The COVID-19 vaccination process started in Idaho on Monday, Dec. 14 when Saint Alphonsus began vaccinating its frontline employees.

Gov. Brad Little was on hand for day one of vaccinations in Idaho. Health care workers are first in line.

St. Luke's received its first shipment of 975 doses on Tuesday and began vaccinating its frontline workers later in the week.

More vaccine shipments will keep rolling in. By the end of the week, the Gem State was expected to have more than 13,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

While it may be the beginning of the end of the pandemic, it is certainly not the end of the pandemic. It will be many months before the general population can get the vaccine, and enough people can get vaccinated to create widespread immunity. Health experts say we still must be vigilant in doing things to protect ourselves and others: wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, and stay home if you're sick.

That's because at the same time the vaccine is rolling out, the COVID infection numbers keep ticking up and our hospitals are feeling the strain.

According to the latest data from the state, as of Dec. 19, Idaho has had 129,069 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic. 1,282 Idahoans have died of COVID-related illness. Also, as of December 16, across the state 467 COVID patients were in the hospital. 109 of them were in the intensive care unit. 

On Dec. 18, 89 intensive care unit beds were open.

On Dec. 18 at St. Luke's Health System 479 adult patients total were admitted to the hospital. Of the admitted patients, 114 were being treated for COVID-19.

For the same date at Saint Alphonsus Health System 424 patients were hospitalized. 100 of those were being treated for COVID-19.

On this edition of Viewpoint, Saint Alphonsus Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Steven Nemerson and St. Luke's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jim Souza discuss the importance of the vaccine rollout in the fight against the virus, but they caution that now is not the time to let our guard down.

Here is an excerpt from the program.

Dr. Steven Nemerson: "I think December 14 is going to go down in history as the D-Day of the war against COVID. And what I mean by that is we finally have the tool to eradicate this virus from Idaho, Eastern Oregon and the United States, but it's going to be a long slog ahead. And we need to start with vaccinating our frontline health care providers because these are the people, if we can keep them healthy and keep them at work, they're going to be able to take care of the patients who continue to get COVID for coming months as we're trying to roll out this vaccine."

Doug Petcash: Dr. Souza do you worry that people will let their guard down because of the vaccine rollout and not keep following the safety protocols of mask wearing, social distancing, etc.?

Dr. Jim Souza: "Absolutely. I mean there's an unanswered scientific question with the vaccine. We know that the vaccine prevents the severe end of the infection, the disease state of COVID-19 where patients are symptomatic. We don't know scientifically, definitively today that it will actually prevent SARS COVID infection and contain the spread."

Nemerson and Souza also discuss how their hospitals are handling the high number of COVID-19 cases and how their staffs are holding up under the strain.

Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 6:30 on KTVB and several more times after that on 24/7 starting at 9 a.m.

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