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Idaho out of statewide crisis standards after 67 days; now only in North Idaho

A Kootenai Health nurse helps her patient put on his mask in his room to help prevent transmission of virus particles. (Courtesy of Kootenai Health)
A Kootenai Health nurse helps her patient put on his mask in his room to help prevent transmission of virus particles. (Courtesy of Kootenai Health)

The surge of COVID-19 patients has waned in recent weeks, but hospitals have catching up to do.

Most of Idaho’s hospitals have returned to semi-normalcy today, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced Monday.

Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen on Nov. 22 announced that Idaho has exited a statewide “crisis standards of care” declaration. However, North Idaho remains under the mass casualty triage framework, due to prolonged surge of COVID-19 there. And health care systems in the rest of the state remain stretched thin, under “contingency” operations.

Jeppesen in September made the decision — based on input from a large committee and from other state leaders — to move Idaho into crisis standards because of the overwhelming demands of a COVID-19 surge. The declaration began with North Idaho, on Sept. 6, but was broadened to include the rest of the state the following week.

Since Idaho first activated crisis standards on Sept. 6:

  • At least 1,322 Idaho residents have died from COVID-related causes.
  • Public health agencies recorded at least 76,761 new cases of COVID-19.
  • Idaho hospitals admitted 5,030 adults and 119 children with COVID-19.
  • There were more than 21,000 COVID-related visits to Idaho’s emergency rooms.

The declaration acknowledged Idaho hospitals were running out of beds and staff because of an influx of hundreds of COVID-19 patients. Hospitals provided detailed records that showed they could no longer provide the normal standard of care.
Some hospitals were forced to treat severely ill patients in the emergency room, waiting hours or even days for beds to open in intensive care or medical units. Hospitals opened makeshift overflow units in surgical floors, classrooms and conference rooms, off-site clinics and even, sometimes, had to put patients in the hallway.

Many hospitals stopped doing surgeries and procedures, to free up beds and staff for patients who were in immediate danger of death or disability.

It took about two-and-a-half months for hospitalizations from the highly infectious delta variant to reach a peak: More than 750 people were in Idaho hospitals each day from Sept. 20 to Sept. 27, according to federal data.

The number of daily COVID-19 hospitalizations fell in recent weeks. But the share of ICU patients with COVID-19 in mid-November is roughly the same as at the peak of the winter 2020 surge.

Hospitals are now catching up on months of delayed surgeries and procedures — such as tumor removal, open-heart surgeries and joint replacements — which adds to their ICU patient counts.

According to the Monday announcement, crisis standards of care remain in effect in the Panhandle Health District, which encompasses Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah and Shoshone counties.

“It will be some time before health care systems return to full normal operations,” the news release said. “It also will take time for the health care systems to work through the many delayed surgeries and other medical treatments.”

According to the release, Idaho will continue to provide resources including health care staffing support, until operations return to normal.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.