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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

South Central Idaho Doctors Say There Are Signs Social Distancing Is Working

Courtesy of St. Luke’s Health System
A St. Luke's employee sets up an intubation room at the hospital in Boise.

Hospital officials in south central Idaho are cautiously optimistic about the coronavirus picture in the Magic Valley and Wood River Valley.


Late last week, the St. Luke’s hospital in Ketchum re-opened for select visits and procedures. It had been closed for about two weeks, except for the emergency department, walk-in clinic and screening tents, because a significant number of Blaine County’s health care workers had tested positive for coronavirus or had been potentially exposed.

“We got to the point where it was not safe to run that hospital because we just didn’t have the staff,” Dr. Joshua Kern, the vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s in Ketchum, Jerome and Twin Falls, told the Twin Falls City Council on Monday night. 

Twin Falls County, which currently has 53 coronavirus cases and one death, hasn’t experienced a big surge in the number of cases like Blaine County saw a few weeks ago, Kern said. 

“We probably have flattened the curve enough to keep ourselves from being overwhelmed,” he said. 

Kern told city council members that with the advanced warning from Blaine County, where the cases of coronavirus per resident is the highest in the country according to the New York Times, along with Gov. Brad Little’s stay-at-home order, Twin Falls has been able to social distance “well enough” to prevent overloading the regional health system.

A few weeks ago, hospital leaders weren’t as hopeful. With the number of patients being transferred from the Wood River Valley to the Twin Falls hospital, a rapid rise in cases in Twin Falls could’ve been detrimental.

“It would’ve been a catastrophe,” Kern said. “The ICU here would’ve been overrun, we would’ve been transferring patients up to Boise and scrambling to figure out how to care for all those patients.”

Patients with coronavirus are still being admitted to St. Luke’s in Twin Falls, including some very sick people who need to be on ventilators, but Dr. Adam Robison, the medical director for hospitalists at St. Luke’s Magic Valley, said the medical system is able to handle those needs, for now.

“We are far from capacity. We have plenty of capacity to take increasing cases of patients right now,” Robison said.

If needed, though, there are plans that would turn certain areas of the facility into additional ICU-level units, and would train outpatient providers to work at the hospital.  

“We’re very much aware of the potential this could pose to our health care system and we’re making plans for that,” Robison said, who each morning looks at the health system’s “census” to see how many patients are in the hospital. 

Robison also said the numbers seem to show social distancing is working, to some degree, locally. But he emphasized that it needs to continue. 

“That’s the only way we can really keep this from spreading,” he said.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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