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Mountain West Faces COVID Wave Among The Unvaccinated

Nurse Ann Enderle tends to a COVID-19 patient at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho.
Associated Press

Nurse Ann Enderle tends to a COVID-19 patient at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center in Boise, Idaho.

A growing number of hospitals in the Mountain West are facing an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 patients. Almost all of them are unvaccinated.

“They're all hugely regretting not getting the vaccination,” said Kelsey Erikson, an intensive care nurse in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where the number of pandemic cases is near where it was at its peak last winter. “You can just see how scared they are.”

The current COVID crush has prompted some hospitals to begin rationing care for everyone, regardless of their diagnosis. Medical providers in parts of Utah and Idaho, for example, have canceled most surgeries. State health officials are warning everyone to avoid risky activities that might land them in the emergency room because beds are full and resources are strapped.

“There’s no question about it, the system is incredibly stressed,” said John Hick, medical director for emergency preparedness at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis.

Hick is an expert in crisis standards of care, which are guidelines that hospitals and state public health agencies activate when overwhelmed.

“It’s about using the resources we have in the best way possible to maintain as close to usual standards of care as we can,” he told the Mountain West News Bureau.

This doesn’t mean doctors are going around a COVID ward deciding who lives and who dies in. Instead, Hick says it’s about rationing the existing staff and equipment you have on hand. That might mean a patient, instead of getting four hours on a ventilator, may get two because that’s just enough to keep them safe.

Across the country, Hick says, the biggest problem right now is a shortage of critical care beds. The strain is especially acute in the Mountain West and the Great Plains because they don’t have as many large, tertiary hospitals as in the more densely populated East.

“The number of ICU beds for the population is just not adequate at baseline,” Hick said. “You throw in additional trauma, you throw in COVID, and you’re talking about a real crisis.”

Kelsey Erikson, ICU nurse, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.
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