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Idaho health officials consider crisis standards of care as viruses surge

St Luke's Hospital Main Entrance
Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio

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

“Let me be clear: hospitals across the state are full and under a tremendous amount of stress,” said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.

“I am worried that Idahoans do not understand the large impact these three viral diseases are having on our hospital capacity, which affects all patient care,” Jeppesen said.

COVID-19 testing reveals about 8% of results are positive and have generally plateaued around that mark since early October.

But confirmed infections of flu and RSV, a common respiratory virus that is largely mild for most patients but can be acutely serious for infants and older adults, spiked between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

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

That’s translated to weekly hospital admissions of around 300.

Dr. Jim Souza, chief medical officer for St. Luke’s Health System, said his hospitals admit between 30-50 patients per day.

Children who would typically go to the pediatric intensive care unit are being housed in critical care units designed for newborns or adults, Souza said. Others are being boarded for hours in emergency departments before bedspace elsewhere opens up.

“You will experience very busy emergency departments, crowded emergency rooms,” he said if someone has to go to the ER. “Everyone will be wearing a mask, but they are crowded. You’ll experience longer waits because of that.”

Winter is traditionally a busy season for hospitals because of the large spread of respiratory illnesses.

But Souza said this caseload is not normal.

“The frequency with which, however, we would find ourselves at our pediatric ICU, for example, capacity is exceedingly rare.”

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

Activating crisis standards of care, which prioritize how much treatment a patient will receive, isn’t out of the question, though state health and welfare director Dave Jeppesen says those parameters aren’t finalized.

“We hope to get a better, more finely tuned set of those to help hospitals if they have to make these difficult decisions and that will take a couple of weeks to get that revision done,” Jeppesen said.

Officials recommend masking in public and to stay home if you feel sick.

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

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!