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‘On the brink’ of crisis standards of care. Here’s what we know about Idaho hospitals


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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — As Idaho faces a flood of ill COVID-19 patients, the situation at hospitals is becoming increasingly dire: There are only four unfilled adult intensive care unit beds available in the state out of nearly 400 total, according to Gov. Brad Little.

On Tuesday, Little activated the Idaho National Guard and announced the procurement of additional hospital staff to deal with the ongoing crisis that has placed Idaho hospitals “on the brink” of having to declare crisis standards of care.

“We’ve reached a point in the pandemic we have not been before,” Little said during the announcement.

RELATED | Idaho governor calls in help amid surge in COVID patients

As of Sunday, there were 160 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized in an ICU, according to data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare — and data often is under-reported on weekends. During the pandemic’s previous high point in December, the peak number of COVID-19 ICU patients was 122.

The week of Aug. 22, 85% of staffed adult ICU beds in the state were occupied, according to data compiled by the White House COVID-19 Team on Monday. Forty-four percent of those beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients.

“Our health care system is not designed to withstand the prolonged strain caused by an unrestrained global pandemic,” Little said.

As the number of hospitalized Idahoans rises, more people from younger demographics with markedly lower vaccination rates are getting sick.

On Monday, 87 of the people admitted to Idaho hospitals with COVID-19 over the previous seven days were under the age of 50, according to the White House data, which is nearly 32% of the people who were admitted over that period. The number of people in their 30s admitted to Idaho hospitals with COVID-19 rose 18% from the previous week.

Since January, the mean age of hospitalized patients has fallen from over 66 years of age to just under 60, according to Health and Welfare.

Only 44% of Idahoans aged 35 to 44 are fully vaccinated, according to Health and Welfare.

While vaccination rates are much higher among the older population — 76% of Idahoans 65 or older are fully vaccinated — hospitalizations of older residents are rising, too. Since the middle of August, hospital COVID-19 admissions among residents aged 70 or older have risen by 26%.

On Tuesday, St. Luke’s announced that the hospital’s Treasure Valley and Elmore County locations would pause inpatient and outpatient surgeries and procedures starting Wednesday because of a “significant and rapidly increasing” number of COVID-19 patients. In mid-August, St. Luke’s facilities in the region paused surgeries that required an overnight hospital stay.

Little said he toured an ICU wing at St. Luke’s in Boise on Monday evening that was nearly full with COVID-19 patients who had an average age of 43.

“Among the COVID-positive patients, all of them were unvaccinated,” Little said. “Some were young, two were middle-aged, two patients were pregnant … all of them were struggling to breathe.”