‘I worry every single day’: Idaho officials say COVID crisis to get more dire this fall

·3 min read

With hospitals bursting at the seams in Idaho amid the state’s COVID-19 surge, officials are predicting that the situation could get worse — much worse.

According to a model compiled by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, the state could see a worst-case scenario of as many as 1,900 hospitalizations in a single week by the end of November, a major increase over current levels. As of Friday, there were 774 patients hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, which includes patients who were hospitalized in prior weeks.

Around that same time in November, the state could see as many as 305 deaths in a single week, according to the model. The week of Sept. 20, the state recorded 140 new COVID-related deaths.

State leaders continue to call for voluntary vaccination against COVID-19, but some officials are wondering whether there has been enough mitigation. Idaho has one of the worst vaccination rates in the country, at roughly 52% of the eligible population (12 and older).

“I worry every single day that we have not done enough as a society to protect our loved ones from needless suffering,” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator for the Division of Public Health, at a press conference on Tuesday. “And (that) we have let a narrative prevail that does not support vaccines and public health mitigation measures.”

Earlier this week, Shaw-Tulloch said that a family member of hers, who is a health care worker, watched yet another unvaccinated person die. She then helped zip that patient into a body bag.

“That’s a task that too many of our health care workers are having to do right now,” Shaw-Tulloch said.

At current levels, the state’s largest hospital system, St. Luke’s, is in crisis standards of care, and hospital leaders have said that the number of patients is very near desperate levels.

“If we continue to see increases in our patients … then there is the possibility in the future here that we would have to not provide care to someone who otherwise might need that care,” said Dr. Frank Johnson, chief medical officer for St. Luke’s in Boise, Elmore and McCall.

The state activated crisis standards on Sept. 16, allowing hospitals with insufficient resources to shift their focus from all individual patients to trying to save the most lives, if necessary.

Another big problem exists in long-term care centers, 140 of which have active cases of COVID-19, up from just 14 in early July, according to Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.

“The number of COVID-19 patients continues to exceed the health care resources available,” he said Tuesday.

Along with a rise in adult COVID-19 infections has come an even faster increase in cases among children, with pediatric cases — which have doubled since mid-August — now at record levels, officials said.

Twenty percent of the cases currently reported are among children, which is “much higher” than what was seen during last December’s surge, according to Dr. Kathyrn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist.

The week of Sept. 20, nearly 1,700 pediatric cases were reported by the state. The peak last winter was just over 1,100, according to state data.

Though children 12 to 17 are authorized to receive the Pfizer vaccine, no vaccines are authorized for younger children yet. On Monday, there were five pediatric intensive care beds available in the state, according to Dr. Christine Hahn, state epidemiologist.

“I worry every single day about the potential of seeing a child’s death notice,” Shaw-Tulloch said Tuesday, through tears.