Southwest Idaho is back to crisis standards, while the rest of the state remains in a ‘fragile’ situation
Omicron is hitting the Idaho health system hard, as staff call in sick with exposures, the blood supply is low, and the number of Idahoans testing positive exceeds health districts’ ability to report cases.
On Monday, Idaho Department of Health and Wellness Director Dave Jeppesen declared crisis care standards in all three Southwest health districts, including Boise and Treasure Valley. This means that certain types of care may be rationed. He said other districts and health systems are operating at emergency care standards and “at the edge” of crisis standards.
“The situation for the rest of the state remains fragile,” Jeppesen told reporters Tuesday. “If current trends continue, I expect standards of crisis care to be activated in different parts of the state.”
The situation in Idaho mirrors what is happening in eastern Washington, with an explosive number of cases and hospitals that are filling up faster than before due to a lack of staff and, in some cases, d lack of space. To make matters even more tenuous, blood supply shortages are worrying hospitals about the possibility of rationing it in the future.
“The rationing hasn’t happened yet, but we fear it will,” Dr. Steven Nemerson, clinical director of Saint Alphonsus Health System, told reporters on Tuesday.
The vast majority of hospitalized COVID patients in Idaho are unvaccinated. In the Saint Alphonsus health system, 80% of hospitalized COVID patients are not vaccinated; 10% are partially vaccinated; and 10% are vaccinated and boosted, Nemerson said.
The number of Idahoans testing positive exceeded the capacity of state labs and health districts, and the number of outstanding tests rose to 39,000, Jeppesen said.
The Department of Health and Welfare has estimated the actual case rate to be much higher than reported due to the backlog. The average positivity rate in Idaho is around 34%, but in some areas it exceeds 60%, meaning well over half of all people tested end up testing positive.
Hospital capacity in the interior northwest continues to be stretched as eastern Washington faces its omicron surge. Hospitalizations in Spokane County also continue to rise.
Idaho re-declaring crisis care standards could impact Washington hospitals, Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association, told reporters.
Hospitals like Pullman Regional Medical Center that are on the state line are already accepting patients from Idaho. Pullman Regional receives three to five calls a day from facilities in Idaho and Washington asking to transfer patients, said Jeannie Eylar, chief nursing officer at Pullman Regional.
“We’re trying to balance giving these people the surgeries they’ve been waiting for months with trying to be good neighbors,” Eylar said.
She said that so far the rural hospital has had space to accommodate many of these patients from Gritman Medical Center in Moscow or St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, and she expects that these hospitals are soon feeling the ripple effects of what is happening in southwestern Idaho.
Hospital association leaders fear that if the outbreak worsens in Idaho and eastern Washington, it will also affect hospitals in western Washington, which has been the case in previous waves.
As of Sunday, 2,249 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Washington.
Here is an overview of the local numbers:
The Spokane Regional Health District reported 830 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and no additional deaths.
Health officials are still experiencing high case data which can lead to delays and backlogs. Additionally, the state’s lab reporting system was set to be updated on Tuesday, causing fluctuations in data reporting.
There are 180 hospitalized patients in Spokane.
The Panhandle Health District reported 372 new cases of COVID-19 and no additional deaths. However, there are still 4,313 pending cases, indicating that case rates are likely much higher in northern Idaho.
There are 96 Panhandle residents hospitalized and Kootenai Health is treating 84 COVID patients.