COVID Is So Bad Some ICUs Don’t Have Room for Patients Likely to Die

“This is a decision I was fervently hoping to avoid,” Idaho state health director Dave Jeppesen said in a statement.
September 8, 2021, 6:09pm
Ann Enderle, R.N., checks on a COVID-19 patient in the Medical Intensive care unit (MICU) at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. There are only 4 open ICU beds available in all of Idaho as of Tuesday. (AP Photo/Kyle

The current wave of COVID-19 has gotten so bad in Idaho that the state is now allowing two health districts in the northern part of the state to begin rationing care.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare activated “crisis levels of care” in the Idaho Panhandle and north central parts of the state Monday after a request from a hospital in Coeur D’Alene, and announced it Tuesday

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The crisis standards “provide guidelines that help healthcare providers and systems decide how to deliver the best care possible under the extraordinary circumstances of an overwhelming disaster or public health emergency,” according to the declaration

The standards allow hospitals to use metrics such as a patient’s prognosis for being discharged from the hospital and for near-term survival in order to determine who gets access to potentially lifesaving resources such as a bed in the intensive care unit, in a state where there is virtually no ICU capacity right now.

“Crisis standards of care is a last resort. It means we have exhausted our resources to the point that our healthcare systems are unable to provide the treatment and care we expect,” state health director Dave Jeppesen said in a statement. “This is a decision I was fervently hoping to avoid.”

“The best tools we have to turn this around is for more people to get vaccinated and to wear masks indoors and in outdoor crowded public places,” he added. “Please choose to get vaccinated as soon as possible – it is your very best protection against being hospitalized from COVID-19.”

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Idaho is just one of many states around the country struggling to contain the Delta variant. In nearby Oregon, just 50 ICU beds out of more than 600 were available as of Saturday, the state health director told the New York Times. In recent weeks hospitals in states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and other states have hit or neared hospital capacity, and New Mexico established an ICU “waiting list” last month amid the surge in that state. 

Making matters worse is that Idaho is one of the least vaccinated states in the country, with just 40 percent of its total population fully vaccinated. The state currently has a higher rate of hospitalizations than it did during last winter’s wave, the deadliest in many areas of the country. 

After visiting an ICU in Boise last week, Gov. Brad Little took to the state’s public television network late last month to plead with the state’s residents to get vaccinated.

“What I saw was heartbreaking. Among the COVID positive patients, all were unvaccinated,” Little said. “We’ve reached a point in the pandemic we have not been before.” Little also said that the state’s healthcare system “was not designed to withstand the prolonged strain of a global pandemic.” 

On Tuesday, he reiterated his call for people to get vaccinated, calling the situation an “unprecedented and unwanted point in the history of our state.” 

“We have taken so many steps to avoid getting here, but yet again we need to ask more Idahoans to choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” LIttle said. “More Idahoans need to choose to receive the vaccine so we can minimize the spread of the disease and reduce the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, many of which involve younger Idahoans and are preventable with safe and effective vaccines.”