Idaho health officials consider crisis standards as viruses surge

A combination of COVID-19, flu and RSV is pushing Idaho hospitals to the limit, state health officials announced during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

“Let me be clear: Hospitals across the state are full and under tremendous stress,” said Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Human Services.

“I’m concerned that Idahoans don’t understand the huge impact these three viral diseases are having on our hospital capacity, which is affecting overall patient care,” Jeppesen said.

COVID-19 testing shows about 8% of results are positive and have generally stabilized around this mark since early October.

But confirmed infections with the flu and RSV, a common respiratory virus that’s largely mild for most patients but can be acutely severe in infants and older adults, were spiked between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

The latest data shows positive flu tests near 31% and confirmed RSV cases near 20%.

This corresponds to weekly hospital admissions of around 300.

dr St. Luke’s health system chief medical officer Jim Souza said his hospitals admit between 30 and 50 patients a day.

Children who would normally go to the pediatric intensive care unit are placed in intensive care units designed for newborns or adults, Souza said. Others are fed for hours in emergency rooms before beds become available elsewhere.

“You’re going to see very busy ERs and crowded ERs,” he said, when someone needs to go to the ER. “Everyone will wear a mask but they are crowded. This leads to longer waiting times.”

Winter has traditionally been a busy time of year for hospitals due to the high prevalence of respiratory diseases.

But Souza said that number of cases is not normal.

“However, the frequency with which we would find ourselves in our children’s intensive care unit, for example, is extremely rare.”

He said St. Luke’s has already canceled elective pediatric surgeries and that could soon extend to all patients.

Enabling crisis care standards that prioritize how much treatment a patient is receiving isn’t out of the question, though state Health and Human Services Director Dave Jeppesen says those parameters are ongoing.

“We’re hoping to get a better, more finely tuned set of these to help hospitals when they have to make these tough decisions, and it will take a couple of weeks to complete this overhaul,” Jeppesen said.

Officials recommend masking up in public and staying home if you feel sick.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

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