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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.

Treasure Valley Health Leaders Sound Alarm Over Spike In Coronavirus Cases And Hospitalizations

Katherine Jones
Idaho Statesman
The flagship Downtown Boise hospital of St. Luke’s Health System.";

Top leaders from the Treasure Valley’s largest health care organizations are urging Idahoans to take immediate action against the further spread of COVID-19.

“We’re on a course of seeing exponential increases, and until and unless we change our collective behaviors, those will continue,” said St. Luke’s Health System CEO Chris Roth during a news conference Tuesday morning. 


Representatives from St. Luke’s, Saint Alphonsus Health System, Primary Health Medical Group and West Valley Medical Center came together for a virtual press conference Tuesday to express their concern about the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Idaho. 


About half of confirmed coronavirus cases in Idaho have occurred in the past two weeks, Roth said, with the other half spread out over three months, from March to June. 


Along with an increase in cases, the hospitals are seeing more people needing treatment for the virus. 


On June 26, 20 people were admitted to St. Luke’s hospitals for COVID-19. On July 2, that number had doubled to 40 coronavirus cases in the hospital system; on July 7, it climbed to 51 and on Tuesday there were 77 patients at St. Luke’s being treated for COVID-19.

“We see no change in this trend and our projections suggest COVID-19-related admissions will double every two weeks,” Roth said. 

The hospital leaders said they are currently equipped to care for patients with COVID-19, as well as other people in the community visiting clinics and coming in for elective procedures. But they said Idaho could quickly look like states such as Texas, Florida and Arizona, where health systems are overwhelmed.


“The numbers are frightening, the trends are more than concerning, but we know we have the opportunity to turn this around,” said Dr. Steven Nemerson, the chief clinical officer at Saint Alphonsus.


Health leaders came to Tuesday’s meeting with two ‘asks’ of the community: Be more vigilant in wearing face masks and social distancing and contact public officials to ask them to make face masks mandatory


When asked whether mask mandates should come from local officials or from Gov. Brad Little, health officials said they’d like to see mandates come from the state because of the lack of coordination among the seven local health districts. 


“I don't claim to be a politician, but as a physician,” said Dr. David Peterman, the CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, “and based on the data I'm seeing, which is people are coming from all over Idaho to be tested and therefore moving all around, I strongly would recommend a masking mandate for the entire state.”


St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus leaders advocated against returning to shelter-in-place orders, “because of the other negative effects it creates,” said Dr. Jim Souza, the chief medical officer at St. Luke’s, and because mask-wearing and physical distancing are effective. 


The medical leaders also highlighted two other areas of concern: overrun testing centers and staff needing to quarantine. 


Primary Health, which has been seeing around 400 people a day wanting tests, is booking tests two days in advance due to demand, and is turning people away who are close contacts of positive cases or who have symptoms. 


The health group opened two additional respiratory clinics to meet the increase, but it had to temporarily shut one clinic down due to a lack of healthy staff. Twenty staff members are quarantining because they’ve tested positive or they’re waiting for test results. 


At Saint Alphonsus, there were 25 staff members quarantined a month ago; today, that number is 123.


“We don't have other colleagues to go find to bring in that know our system,” said Saint Alphonsus CEO Odette Bolano.


Roth opened the meeting by wishing condolences to the family and friends of Samantha Hickey, a pediatric nurse practitioner at St. Luke’s who died on Monday due to complications of COVID-19. Hickey is survived by her husband and four children. 


“It really is a reminder of the gut-wrenching effect of this pandemic,” he said. “It’s frankly a very stark reminder of why we’re here today, and what we want to talk about.” 


Editor's Note: This is a developing story and will be updated with more information. 

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen 

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.