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COVID-19 hospitalizations hit record as Idaho health care groups make plea to public

by RACHEL ROBERTS
| September 3, 2021 7:00 AM

Idaho Statesman (TNS)

BOISE, Idaho — COVID-19 hospitalizations in Idaho hit a peak of 496 on Dec. 1 of last year.

That record has been surpassed several times over the last few weeks, reaching a new high of 526 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday, according to the latest available data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Of those patients, 162 are in intensive care, which is also a record.

Given those numbers, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Idaho's health care industry is begging for the public's help.

A joint letter released Wednesday from 29 Idaho health care groups — representing thousands of health care providers throughout the state — seeks to express "alarm at what we are witnessing now, and let you know what you can do to help."

The group had even higher hospitalization numbers than state data.

"As of Aug. 31, approximately 543 patients in Idaho were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, and 167 of those patients were in the ICU with confirmed COVID-19," the letter reads. "Perhaps most discouraging is the fact that approximately 97 COVID-19 patients in Idaho were on a ventilator, the highest recorded number at any time during this pandemic."

On Tuesday, Gov. Brad Little said the state is "on the brink" of having to declare crisis standards of care for hospitals, a designation which helps hospitals make decisions about how to allocate resources when standard care is not available for all patients.

Perhaps more troubling is that Idaho's COVID-19 metrics continue to trend upward. Health and Welfare reported 1,163 new cases and eight new deaths Wednesday, increasing the state's seven-day moving average to 926.9 cases per day — a rate not seen since early January and an increase of more than 1,700% since July. Idaho's test positivity rate has steadily climbed from 2.8% for the week of June 13-19 to 13.2% for Aug. 15-21. New test positivity numbers will be released Thursday by Health and Welfare.

"Sadly, scientific modeling confirms very worrisome scenarios in Idaho's near future," the letter continues. "Since July, the COVID-19 cases spiked from 3.4 to 37.7 per 100,000 population. Models indicate that by mid-October, Idaho could see 30,000 cases per week, which is thousands more than any week in 2020."

About 49% of Idahoans age 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to 61.5% nationally.

"We know from other states with similarly low vaccination rates that the surge is coming," the letter reads. "Health care facilities in Idaho are receiving calls from places like Missouri and Arkansas asking if they can transport patients to our hospitals. Which begs the question, when our surge gets worse, where will we send Idahoans?"

Vaccination remains Idaho's best defense, the letter says. Since Jan. 1, 96.1% of new COVID-19 cases are among the unvaccinated, 95.8% of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated, and the unvaccinated account for 96.8% of COVID-19 deaths, the letter says.

"Idaho Medical Association, alongside the nearly 30 other co-signers of this letter, call on Idahoans to choose to get vaccinated and wear masks," the letter reads. "Now is the time to choose to protect ourselves, our families and our neighbors from COVID-19."

Here are the organizations that signed the joint letter: American Nurses Association of Idaho, Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Family Medicine Residency of Idaho, Idaho Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors, Idaho Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Idaho Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, Idaho Acupuncture Association, Idaho Ambulatory Surgery Center Association, Idaho Center for Nursing, Idaho College of Emergency Physicians, Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, Idaho Health Care Association, Idaho Hospital Association, Idaho Medical Association, Idaho Medical Group Management Association, Idaho Primary Care Association, Idaho Society of Anesthesiologists, Idaho Society of Ophthalmologists, Idaho Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Idaho State Dental Association, Independent Doctors of Idaho, Intermountain Cassia Regional Hospital, Nurse Leaders of Idaho, Nurse Practitioners of Idaho, Saint Alphonsus Health System, Saltzer Health (an Intermountain Healthcare Company), Shoshone Family Medical Center, St. Luke's Health, staff and providers of Primary Health Medical Group.