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Gov. Little Reactivates National Guard As Hospitals Burst With COVID-19 Patients

Brad Little school COVID-19 testing
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Gov. Brad Little warned Idahoans earlier this month that COVID-19 cases are predicted to break new records if more people don't get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Gov. Brad Little is reactivating the Idaho National Guard once again as cases of COVID-19 are overwhelming hospitals around the state. Just four intensive care unit beds are available statewide.

Described as a “last-ditch effort” to avoid the state’s first use of crisis standards of care, Little will direct up to 150 soldiers to help screen patients, complete lab work and other duties.

Another 200 federal workers — some with medical expertise — will also be available.

“We are teetering on the brink and there’s only one real solution to the crisis: we need more Idahoans to choose to receive the safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine,” Little said.

Should the state authorize hospitals to move toward crisis standards of care, patients will be triaged and prioritized as to who might benefit most from immediate treatment, regardless if they contracted the coronavirus or not.

“This affects all of us, not just patients with COVID-19,” he said.

Little visited a Boise ICU wing Monday night before he made his decision.

“What I saw was heartbreaking.”

It was nearly full. All were unvaccinated and the average age of patients, he said, was 43.

“All of them were struggling to breathe and most were only breathing with the help of a machine,” he said.

As the Idaho Capital Sun reported, the state broke a record for the number of hospitalized patients during the pandemic over the weekend, at 505.

More than half of ICU patients have COVID-19. A month ago, that number was 17.5%

“We expect this to get worse in the coming days and weeks,” said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen during a media briefing Tuesday afternoon.

The spike in hospitalizations, ICU admissions and ventilator usage all rose much more quickly than during the state’s previous peaks last winter, Jeppesen said.

Idaho’s lagging vaccination rates have troubled medical providers in the state for months. Just 48.5% of eligible Idahoans are fully vaccinated compared to 61.2% nationwide.

Little’s decision to reactivate the National Guard comes after he ended its original mission in June.

Staffing issues at hospitals account for part of the lack of ICU bedspace, according to state health officials. If there aren’t enough specialized healthcare workers on the clock during a shift, some beds lay empty.

To help fix that, the state is offering $4 million in grants hospitals can use to hire new staff, pay overtime, raise salaries or bring in traveling nurses or doctors.

The state is also making available $1 million for standalone health clinics, based on how many patients they serve, to help with the same problems.

Funds for both grant programs come from federal coronavirus relief money.

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!

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