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'We're Worse': Idaho COVID Hospitalizations Keep Climbing

A team of nurses in gowns, hoods and face shield is treating a coronavirus patient who went into cardiac arrest in the St. Luke's Boise ICU.
St. Luke's ICU Nurse Kristen Connelly
St. Luke's Health System
A coronavirus patient is treated after going into cardiac arrest on Thanksgiving in the ICU at St. Luke’s in Boise.

A week after Idaho moved to crisis standards of care statewide, St. Luke's — the largest health system in the state — is still setting COVID-19 hospitalization records.

This Thursday, it was caring for 315 COVID patients, a new high.

“We're worse," said Dr. Frank Johnson, the chief medical officer for St. Luke's in Boise, Elmore and McCall, compared to last week's numbers.

The St. Luke's ICU capacity is at all-time highs. Of the COVID patients there, 98% of them are unvaccinated. While the hospitals are trying to expand critical care space, Johnson said, they're running up against physical limits.

The hospital buildings themselves aren't designed to pump all the oxygen ICU patients are needing through the walls and pipes.

"We're going to hit a limit where we just can't pump any more oxygen into those rooms," Johnson said.

More than three-quarters of the 101 ventilators St. Luke's has are in use, and Johnson said the remaining ones are not typically used for adults in ICU-level care. The health system recently secured about 25 more ventilators, though they're hard to come by.

The health system doesn’t know when it might hit a peak in hospitalizations. Past COVID waves have gone through a typical pattern, said Dr. Laura McGeorge, the medical director at St. Luke's from primary care.

First, doctors notice COVID levels rising in the community through test results and test positivity rates, then patients needing hospitalization go up, followed by patients needing more critical care. Then, you start to see the deaths, McGeorge said.

She noticed a slight decrease in the percent of positive test results coming back for symptomatic patients this week compared to last week.

Last week, the test positivity was very high, she said — in the mid-30s. St. Luke's urgent care visitation numbers are also down slightly.

McGeorge said the health system won't know for a few weeks if those changes are meaningful, positive changes or just "blips."

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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